Te Ching, perhaps one of the oldest books still in existence,
and perhaps one of the most profound. The original text,
written in ancient Chinese has been kindly translated and
commented upon by someone I know not who, nor when. Whoever
they are, they have the most profound grasp and understanding
of the subject matter, and I honour them as a master. Of
the many translations of the Tao Te Ching, this one, for
me, is the most rewarding.
How to use this book. If you want to gradually transform
yourself into someone who is in harmony with nature, who
is in touch with their intuition to the point where they
can see their interconnectedness with all things, then I
recommend that you bookmark this URL and read one passage
a day, preferably in the morning. But more than just read
the passages, reflect upon them during the day, looking
persistently for evidence in your own life of how the principles
discussed in the passages apply in your world. Over time,
a gradual transformation will occur. Your insight into the
nature of the world will be honed to the point where you
intuitively understand situations and people in ways that
conventional school-based learning cannot teach.
For better results, download the book (zipped executable
Rich Text Format) and do the above, but annotate each passage
with your own observations and insights, as I have done
on many passages (my annotation appears in italics at the
end of each passage)
The Tao Te Ching, the ancient Chinese "Book of the
Tao" was written by philosopher Lao Tzu around 2500
BC. Not a religion, Taoism resembles modern Physics in that
it describes the nature of the universe, the laws that govern
it and the ideal ways that a person might place themselves
in harmony with those laws. As the oldest surviving book,
it shows that the simpler and more in tune with the laws
of Nature something is, the longer it will endure.
Taoism is about seeking the middle path through life; avoiding
extremes, threading a surefooted way between opposites so
lightly and so reasonably that no act is followed by a reaction.
The middle path means there no need to suffer the consequences
of an act. In terms of the doctrine of Karma, it means knowing
how to avoid bad reactions (bad karma).
The practice of Taoism is basically about discovering who
you are, learning to sense the world around you directly.
To contemplate your impressions deeply. It advises against
relying on ideologies because to do so will rob your life
of meaning and cut you off from your intuition. It is intuition
that should be cultivated because this is the only way to
really know the world. By having an intuitive understanding
of the world you are in a position to predict the future
and be able to position yourself so as to achieve your goals.
Lao Tzu believed that an awareness of the physical laws
as they operate both in the universe as a whole and in the
minds of people gives a person the power to direct events
without resorting to force. How is this done? Use attitude
instead of action and influence others by guiding rather
than ruling. The object is to avoid using means that will
elicit a counter-reaction. Lao Tzu noticed that in Nature,
an excessive force in a particular direction tends to trigger
the growth of an opposing force, and therefore the use of
force cannot be the basis for establishing a strong and
lasting social foundation.
The Tao Te Ching is a challenge. It challenges you to see
the world as it actually is by accepting the stark truth
of the physical laws that control existence and evolution.
It challenges us to discover intellectual independence wherein
we have complete trust in our own perceptions and instincts.
It challenges you to reject force and rely rather on the
steady force of your attitudes to influence others. See
the following topics for more detail:
What is the Tao?
The Tao of Power
The Tao of Nature
What is the Tao
No one actually knows where the Tao Te Ching came from,
but this slim book of about five thousand words forms the
foundation of classical Chinese philosophy. Simply stated,
the book explains an evolving force called Tao that operates
throughout the universe; and it describes the personal power
that comes from being in step with the Tao, that is known
as Te. The word Ching means classic." Throughout the
twenty-five-hundred-year history of the Tao Te Ching, hundreds
of translations and commentaries have been published--more
than fifty in English alone--making it, next to the Bible,
the world's most-translated classic. The book has found
an audience in each new generation and never seems to lose
its provocative intellectual value. In this age, the Tao
Te Ching has been rediscovered by physicists, who find in
it remarkable correlations with their theories of the universe.
The Tao Te Ching, moreover, is being explored by psychologists
and business leaders who hope to understand that quality
of the oriental mind that makes it so centred and insightful
in world affairs and economics. The book casts a spell over
those who contemplate it; it is a magnet for minds with
the potential to influence society. Indeed, influencing
society is what the Tao Te Ching is all about.
According to legend, the book was written by Lao Tzu, a
gifted scholar who lived nearly twenty-six centuries ago
and worked as the Custodian of the Imperial Archives during
the reign of the Chou Dynasty. Lao Tzu experienced a time
of political unrest not unlike our own. His world was divided
into hundreds of separate provinces, each with its own laws
and leaders. He saw a build-up of arms and hostilities as
each province competed for political supremacy. Every aggressive
act was met with further hostility and aggression, until
it seemed to the war-torn people of China that they stood
on the threshold of complete destruction and that their
world would finish as a wasteland.
The Tao of Power
The Tao Te Ching explores a remarkable power that is latent
in every individual. This power, that Lao Tzu calls Te,
emerges when one is aware of and aligned with the forces
in nature (Tao). It is essential to Lao Tzu's system that
we understand why and how reality functions, and that we
come to realise that nature invariably takes its course.
We already know that it is rarely worth the effort to swim
upstream, but do we know that way the stream is flowing?
We realise that it is difficult and unsatisfying to cut
across the grain, but can we see that way the grain runs?
Lao Tzu believed that a constant awareness of the patterns
in nature will bring us insights into the parallel patterns
in human behaviour: Just as spring follows winter in nature,
growth follows repression in society; just as too much gravity
will collapse a star, too much possessiveness will collapse
Like all matter and energy in the universe, the emotional
and intellectual structures that we build are constantly
transformed by outside forces. Much of our power is wasted
in propping up our beliefs, defending them, and convincing
others to believe in them so that they might become "permanent."
Once we understand the folly in this, we gain power by using
the evolution in nature to our advantage--accepting, incorporating,
and supporting change when and where it wants to occur.
Our cooperation with the forces in nature makes us a part
of those forces. Our decisions become astute because they
are based on a dynamic, evolving reality, not on fixed or
wishful thinking. We are able to see things that others
might not because the reach of our minds is extended through
the contemplation of the universe. We develop vision and
we help create the future with the power of our vision.
Lao Tzu believed that when people do not have a sense of
power they become resentful and uncooperative. Individuals
who do not feel personal power feel fear. They fear the
unknown because they do not identify with the world outside
of themselves; thus their psychic integration is severely
damaged and they are a danger to their society. Tyrants
do not feel power, they feel frustration and impotency.
They wield force, but it is a form of aggression, not authority.
On closer inspection, it becomes apparent that individuals
who dominate others are, in fact, enslaved by insecurity
and are slowly and mysteriously hurt by their own actions.
Lao Tzu attributed most of the world's ills to the fact
that people do not feel powerful and independent.
The Tao of Nature
Lao Tzu was perhaps the first theoretical physicist. He
devoted all of his intellectual energy to observing nature
and its physical laws and to noting the interdependent relationship
of all things. He saw a unified field of forces that he
called Tao, but because what he saw could not be expressed
in a logical, analytical fashion, he conveyed it through
paradox. The eighty-one chapters in his small book are riddled
with self-contradictory phrases: "The Tao illuminated
appears to be obscure. The Tao advancing appears to be retreating.
It is the form of the formless; the image of nothingness."
Lao Tzu used paradox to provoke an unusual awareness in
his readers, and to help explain the patterns and cycles,
the parity and complementarity, that he saw superimposed
on reality by the physical forces in the universe. The most
striking of these patterns. central to the Tao Te Ching,
is that of polarity.
Polarity arises from the Taoist view of the cosmological
origins of the universe: Before existence there was an idea--an
Absolute. The Chinese call it T'ai Chi, the Supreme Ultimate.
The Absolute, in a sudden and tremendous desire to know
itself, divided itself from non-existence in a cataclysmic
event resulting in endless cause and effect--an event that
neatly parallels the so-called Big Bang Theory. Instantly,
space was formed and time began, and two charged states
came into being, yin (negative) and yang (positive). As
a result of the complementary polarity of yin and yang,
matter and energy, that were at first undifferentiated,
separated and regrouped into the physical reality that became
Lao Tzu believed that everything that exists comes into
reality through the polarity of yin and yang. He called
the specific physical laws and cycles that control and govern
reality the Tao, and suggested that the actions of the Tao
reflect the purpose of a larger entity (the Absolute). So
if reality came about because the Absolute wanted to know
itself, then our evolutionary destiny must be to help it
get a good look by investigating, observing, and emulating
In the Taoist view, developing an awareness of the laws
of nature, especially as they manifest themselves in human
culture, is a major component of personal growth and evolution.
Lao Tzu believed that people and their attitudes and actions
are inseparable from the physical phenomena surrounding
them; and that either might alter the reality of the other.
Since the advent of quantum mechanics (the mathematics that
describes the interactions that take place at the sub-atomic
level), scientists have become intrigued with the link between
human awareness and the workings of the universe. Quantum
mechanics seems to suggest that the sub-atomic world and
even the world beyond the atom--has no independent structure
at all until defined by the human intellect. Werner Heisenberg,
who transformed physics when he developed this concept in
1927, notes: "Natural science does not simply describe
and explain nature; it is a part of the interplay between
nature and ourselves.... What we observe is not nature itself,
but nature exposed to our method of questioning." A
new generation of physicists are now postulating that a
universe cannot even come into existence unless it contains
the possibility of life. They suggest that we live in a
participatory universe where all reality and physical laws
are dependent upon an observer to formulate them. Lao Tzu
would clearly concur.
Conceiving of a universe where reality is shaped through
the force of the intellect (and vice versa) may be somewhat
easier for physicists than it is for the rest of us, but
it is a concept that is indispensable to anyone seeking
powerful insights into the ways of the world. All investigations--whether
at the atomic level or at the level of our own cultural
behaviour--yield more refined and accurate information when
approached from this paradoxical point of view. Fortunately,
the structure of the brain and the bilateral processes of
the mind can make effective use of this form of thought.
The brain accepts all types of information from all stimuli
simultaneously, and the mind processes it in the form of
emotional responses, intuitive feelings, and logically formulated
analyses. In the West, we rely almost exclusively on logical
analysis. We are encouraged to think in a linear fashion,
using words and numbers to draw conclusions about our work
and our lives. These logical functions, according to neurological
research, are performed by the left hemisphere of the brain.
At the same time, we learn to discount aesthetic or intuitive
information--a right-hemisphere function--because it is
considered less valuable to our culture. Thus we find ourselves
primarily concerned with measuring events and analysing
their meaning, rather than creating and directing their
flow. We are taught to ignore the intuitive or irrational,
no matter how strong these "gut feelings" might
be. As these right-hemisphere feelings are repressed we
lose touch with our intuitive mind and our insights become
Lao Tzu believed that intuitive knowledge was the purest
form of information. For that reason, he expressed his philosophy
in the form of thought experiments--mental exercises designed
to enhance and evolve the intuitive skills. In the Tao Te
Ching, he compels us to use intuition as an equal partner
with logic, and encourages us to combine our cognitive understanding
of the world around us with a strong personal vision. Neurologically,
we might call this a "whole-mind" approach, wherein
the spatially and aesthetically astute right hemisphere
of the brain is put into use along with the analytically
and logically oriented left hemisphere. In this way, we
gain a holistic and precise view of reality because we are
also perceiving mood, change, and possibility--the mood
of the times, the change as society evolves, and the possible
future we might create. It is the view of the artist, the
philosopher, the visionary--a view that has always carried
with it the power to influence the world.
The Tao in Nature
This group of twelve passages discusses the basic physical
laws underlying Taoist philosophy; the cosmology of the
Tao and the origins of the universe. It is best understood
using a scientific point of view.
The twelve passages are as follows:
The Nature of the Tao
Perceiving the Subtle
Using What Is Not
The Essence of the Tao
Knowing the Collective Origin
The Tao of Greatness
The Evolving Tao
Mastering the Paradox
The Power of Impartial Support
The Nature of the Tao
"The Tao is not the source of the universe - the Absolute
- rather it describes the way everything in the universe
changes, evolves. It is a distilled representation of a
The Tao is a unified field of forces. Like a mathematical
formula it is both empty and beautiful; and like a formula
it can be used again and again. We can perceive the reality
of the Absolute by studying the Tao in the same way that
we can understand mathematics by studying its principles.
For example if we understand the formula pr2 we can use
it to calculate the area of any circle whether the size
of an atom, our planet or a galaxy.
The Tao permeates nature. It moves through the world as
an omnipresent influence, levelling extremes - smoothing
and harmonising - and evolving the universe and all things
We can no more remain unaffected by its influence than a
naked person swimming in the ocean can remain dry. Enlightened
people learn to recognise it's ways and harmonise their
actions with those ways. This is the way to human happiness
and success in our endeavours. (1)
Perceiving the Subtle
"The Tao is like a subtle female in the sense of having
archetypal feminine characteristics - it is passive, receptive,
"A subtle person does not attempt to use force to achieve
their ends because it invites an equal and opposite reaction.
Rather they work at the underlying cause and with comparatively
little effort bring about the result they want. This is
being subtle because to an observer they have apparently
not done much.
The key to the mysterious power of the Tao lies in it's
Our perception of reality is like being in a large valley
- we can see the valley and everything in it and it seems
like a lot. But the boundaries of the valley obscures what
lies beyond. In this metaphor it is the source of creation
- the underlying cause of the valley - that lies beyond.
The Tao is like the entrance to the valley; it connects
the source of creation beyond with the interior of the valley
that we can see. By studying the way the Tao functions we
can see a reflection of the source of creation that lies
beyond what we see around us.
Enlightened people know that when they are in step with
the Tao in worldly affairs, their endeavours can be completed
Using What Is Not
"In the same way that doors and windows cut into the
wall of a room are what makes the room useful, the Tao is
that vital component that is 'not there' but that is indispensable
to the process of change."
"In the same way that a missing electron causes atomic
events, it is the Tao that inspires natural events. It acts
as a catalyst; it causes a reaction but remains unchanged
during the process."
So like the physicist in the laboratory, Enlightened People
know that it's possible to use what is not there to shape
events in the outside world.
To manifest an effect, they create a sense of absence that
the forces of nature are compelled to resolve. This intellectual
integration with the laws of nature is what allows Enlightened
People to position themselves effectively in the world.
Take advantage of what is there by using what is not there.
The Essence of the Tao
"The Tao can be looked at but not seen, listened to
but not heard, reached for but not obtained; it's name is
formless, soundless and intangible. Therefore it is beyond
analysis, it can only be known by the intuitive mind."
"Unlike the rising sun, it is not bright; unlike the
setting sun, there is no dimming of the light when it sets.
Endlessly this nameless essence of the Tao goes on, merging
and returning to nothingness."
That is why the ancients called it the form of the formless,
the image of nothingness. It is why they called it elusive;
when confronted it cannot be grasped.
The nature of Tao can be understood by knowing what it is
not. Awareness of it cannot be reached via the senses, only
by the intuitive mind and by it's observed effects in the
environment, on people's ideas, and on society.
World events occur in repeating cycles, over and over again.
Enlightened people learn to recognise these recurring patterns
and develop the ability to trace events back to their origins.
In doing this, the enlightened person comes into closer
contact with their own intuitive mind.
With an intuitive understanding of the patterns of life,
the outcome of events can be predicted and steps taken to
affect the outcome.
The essence of the Tao is that an observer can have an effect
on the observed through tactical observation. (14)
Knowing the Collective Origin
"The power we observe in Nature is expressed through
the Tao. But we can't sense the Tao directly, we can only
observe it's effects. Like a powerful magnet, we can't directly
see the magnetism but we can see the effect it has on ferrous
"The Tao is an informed force. It brings power to those
who are aware of it because the collective-unconscious urges
and the social trends of our culture directly parallel the
physical laws that operate through the Tao."
"Enlightened people contemplate the interdependent
cohesiveness of matter and energy; the way it is held together
and in a state of constant evolution by the power of this
informing principle, this life force that we call the Tao.
When looking about at the patterns of nature, we can see
that some kind of informing principle underlies and permeates
nature. This force - the Tao - expresses itself in the diversity
of life and in the amazing complexity and cohesiveness of
the processes of nature."
The thousands of life-forms around us - both animal and
plant - are all expressions of the same life-force. These
life forms, ourselves included are all subject to the same
laws of nature - we are all born, gather strength, reach
a peak, go into decline and then die. There are no exceptions,
only variations in outer form and the length of the lifecycle.
The same can be said of cyclones and human societies.
These laws of nature - the Tao - are expressed on a higher
level, that of our unconscious mind and in the patterns
of our social behaviour. Enlightened people gain influence
by learning to recognise and identify with these underlying
laws of nature. That way, they can predict future trends
and take early action, place themselves in the right place
at the right time.
The Collective Origin is a way of saying that the informing
principle that underlies space and time is the same state
that preceded the Big Bang. Reaching further back, before
the bang Enlightened People seek to identify with the Absolute
- the creative state that exists outside of time and space,
ever engaged in creating realities such as this one. (21)
The Tao of Greatness
"There was something in a state of fusion in the moments
before heaven and earth were born. Silent, vast, independent
and unchanging; working everywhere, tirelessly; it can be
regarded as the mother of the world. This is the Taoist
view of the universe moments before the Big Bang that created
the universe. The Tao had come into existence but all matter
and energy was still a cohesive and undifferentiated mass."
"This view agrees with that of the theoretical physicist
searching for the unified field at the heart of the universe.
In the first billionth of a second after the bang, four
forces appeared; gravity, strong nuclear force, electromagnetism
and weak nuclear force. Energy and matter, time and space
were now differentiated. Lao Tzu calls the actions of these
forces throughout the universe and in the social patterns
of humans, the Tao."
"I do not know it's name; the word I say is Tao. Forced
to give it a name, I say great. Great means that it goes
on forever, so far that it comes back, eventually."
The Tao is great because it is cyclic; given enough time,
history repeats itself. The movements of the Tao follows
the laws of nature, and the power of Taoism lies in perceiving
and understanding the manifestation of those laws in society.
Enlightened people intuitively perceive the evolution of
society and so are able to guide themselves and others towards
harmony and fulfilment. (25)
The Evolving Tao
"The Tao is everywhere and in everything. All things
depend on it for growth and it always supplies what is needed.
It is the life force that evolves all matter and energy.
It acts spontaneously and without motive or possessiveness
- an automatic process."
"Enlightened people learn to recognise the Tao and
allow it to evolve their social environments in the same
way as the natural environment. They instinctively and deftly
untangle the knots and smooth the fabric of life and allow
the need for growth, creativity and independence in those
around them to be fulfilled."
People are drawn to inspiring individuals who allow the
greatness (the Tao) to work through them. Lao Tzu believed
that to emulate the behaviour of the Tao would bring individuals
into the closest possible harmony with actual reality and
true meaning in life.
A life that shares, in it's aims, the purpose of the universe,
will also share in it's greatness and significance. That
life comes to embody the universe and truly demonstrates
the fact that the macrocosm (universe) is reflected in the
microcosm (person). (34)
"Polarity is the movement of the Tao. Receptivity is
the way it is used. The world and All Things were produced
from it's existence. It's existence was produced from non-existence."
"According to Lao Tzu, it was from non-existence -
the Absolute - that the Tao was produced. The Tao, in turn,
produced the positive and negative states Yin and Yang.
These charged states coalesced into all physical reality,
with their behavioural and structural characteristics based
on a unified field of forces."
These forces, or physical laws reflect the actions of the
Tao. The Tao operates through polarity, a physical law that
governs cause and effect. Similar to Newton's law that every
action has an equal and opposite reaction.
In social realms this manifests in such cycles as easy and
difficult, passive and active. The law of polarity changes
and evolves all things by acting upon extremes. Extremes
are overcharged and begin moving in their opposite direction.
Those who follow the Tao avoid extremes and practice moderation
and receptivity. In this way they gain power by moving with
the prevailing forces. (40)
Mastering the Paradox
"When enlightened people hear of the Tao, they work
hard to practice it. When average people hear of the Tao,
they appear both aware and unaware of it. When fools hear
of the Tao, they roar with laughter. Without the foolish
laughter, the old sayings would not be true: the Tao illuminated
appears to be obscured. The Tao advancing appears to be
retreating. The Tao levelled appears to be uneven."
"Superior power appears to be low, great clarity appears
to be spotted, extensive power appears to be insufficient,
established power appears to be stolen and substantial power
appears to be spurious."
"The greatest space has no corners, the greatest talents
are slowly mastered, the greatest music has the rarest sound
and the Great Image has no form. The Tao is hidden and nameless
yet it is the Tao that supports and completes."
Those who follow the Tao continually look beyond present
reality in an attempt to perceive the seeds of change. They
know that all reality is subject to the process of change,
the cycle towards the opposite - life to death, positive
to negative, energy to matter - and then back again. By
recognising and understanding the law of polarity as it
is countlessly manifested gives enlightened people great
insight into worldly affairs.
Enlightened people know that unintuitive people can be dangerous
to work with since they are guided solely by the current
appearance of things that are, in reality, changing. Unintuitive
actions and decisions lack dimension and may interfere insensitively
with the natural process of change and cause counter-reactions.
Enlightened people seek out others who have intuition and
vision - a form of intelligence comes from cultivating the
instincts, observing the direction of change and apprehending
the evolution of ideas. (41)
Mastering the paradox means looking past the effect to the
underlying cause. Seeing the cause provides insight since
it is the underlying pattern that influences past, present
and future events. When we look at the last 1,000 years
of European history, we see a pattern of unification emerge.
From a multitude of small states has come a single European
Union via a tortuous process of war and peace that has merged
the smaller states into larger. This movement of the Tao
from positive to negative and back to positive many times
has evolved Europe into a single entity. Given this tendency
towards unification, we can expect the trend to continue.
In the future, Europe will probably consolidate itself as
an integrated entity and look beyond its borders, seeking
to become united with its neighbours. This is how we can
look beyond present reality of Europe and see the seeds
of change at work.
"The Tao produced the One, the One produced the Two,
the Two produced the Three and the Three produced all things.
All things carry Yin and hold to Yang; their blended influence
brings harmony. People hate to be alone, lonely and unfavoured;
yet leaders take these names."
"So in natural law, some lose and in this way profit;
some profit and so lose. Those who are violent do not die
"This is Lao Tzu's description of the creation of the
universe. Before the One there was the Absolute that stands
outside of space and time, outside of the Universe it creates."
The Tao produced the One: temporal/spatial reality. The
One produced the Two: the opposite charges of positive and
negative (yin and yang). The Two produced the Three: matter,
energy and the physical laws that bind them together. From
these three came the existence of all things in the universe.
All things are interconnected and interdependent, and from
this concept comes the behaviour of polarity: when something
increases something else decreases. So it is that enlightened
people who wish to endure do not put themselves above others,
and if they wish to live long, are never violent.(42)
The Power of Impartial Support
"The Tao produces, it's power supports. It's natural
laws give form to the universe, it's influence brings about
the completion of all matters. And so it is that all things
respect the Tao and value it's power, if they did but know
what to call it."
"The Tao therefore advances, cultivates, comforts,
matures, nourishes and protects. It produces but does not
possess that that it produces. It's subtle power is such
that it acts without expectation and advances without dominating.'
The Tao is completely indifferent to that that it produces,
but it's movement tends to favour those that follow a spontaneous
and natural path. It's power can be used by those who align
themselves with it's current influence.
To unenlightened people who do not follow the Tao (i.e.
go against the grain of their own natures) the Tao is still
indifferent. The only result of this is a difficult life
In the East, the universe is generally regarded as an illusion,
and the source behind it - the Absolute - is viewed as impersonal.
It is an intelligence that creates and supports matter and
energy for the sake of it's own manifestation.
Therefore in the Eastern view, people who maintain an attitude
of impartiality, in emulation of the laws of nature, are
able to use the subtle powers to shape their own destiny.
The Tao is the indefinable thing spoken of with reverence
by every culture as they try to express the underlying cause
of the universe and our lives in it. In this picture the
Tao is the split arch within the larger arch (the world
as we know it). The background is the unified field of natural
forces operating throughout the universe.
The Tao is like a huge river flowing so very slowly and
we are swimming in it. The flow equates to the gradual evolution
of the world, measured in millennia. To see the direction
of flow, we need to step back far enough to gain perspective.
This stepping back is the Taoist perspective.
"Those bold in daring will die, those bold in not daring
will survive. Of these two, either may benefit or harm.
Nature decides that is evil, but who can know why? Even
enlightened people regard this as difficult."
"The Tao in nature does not contend, yet skilfully
triumphs. Does not speak, yet skilfully responds. Does not
summon, yet attracts. Does not hasten, yet skilfully designs.
Natures network is vast, so very vast. It's mesh is coarse,
yet nothing slips through."
In the Taoist view, the way of nature is considered the
ideal in behaviour - we should model our behaviour on the
way nature works. It is a pattern to be followed so as to
place ourselves on the path of least resistance, in step
with the Tao.
Nature is described as an infinitely large network, a unified
field of physical laws that influence all actions, all thoughts
and all natural phenomena.
Nothing escapes the laws of nature, and nothing escapes
nature's notice and reaction. The Tao in nature is intelligent
and powerful. It achieves it's plan without effort and it
responds to potentially unbalancing extremes with precision
and accuracy. (73)
The Tao in Awareness
This group of 14 passages further explores the physical
laws operating in Nature as well as the basic philosophical
assumptions in Taoism. The passages are in the form of thought
experiments: awareness exercises that can be used to expand
the mind and cultivate the powers of intuition.
The passages are as follows:
Holding to the Centre
Controlling the Senses
Knowing the Absolute
Losing the Instincts
Sensing the Insensible
Power Without Motive
The Art of Survival
Returning to Insight
Establishing a Universal View
Knowing the Disease
Holding to the Centre
"Heaven and earth are impartial, they regard all things
as transitory. Enlightened people are also impartial, they
regard all people as transitory and as such have no emotional
attachment to them. This is seeing people like the leaves
on a tree. They are born, flourish, serve a purpose then
die to be replaced by another leaf. It is natural that they
do this and are beautiful in their way."
"People are not normally sad when a leaf dies; but
people and leaves differ in their outward form and not in
their inner nature, they are both living creatures that
are subject to the laws of nature. Impartial also means
not being too involved with the day-to-day concerns of society
- the current issues that come and go."
"Between heaven (non-physical aspect of nature) and
earth (physical aspect) the space is like a bellows. The
shape changes but not the form. The more it moves, the more
"Too much talk will exhaust itself, it's better to
"Heaven and earth reflect the actions of the Tao in
worldly affairs. Because the Tao acts impartially in nature,
enlightened people do so as well. They know that they must
look at human-kind impartially if they are to gain perspective
on themselves and their place in the world.
Evolved people are nonetheless compassionate in their intellectual
and emotional independence. Because they are centred, they
spontaneously react with benevolence. To hold to the centre
is to listen to the voice of the inner mind - an extension
of the mind of the universe. To follow one is to be in harmony
with the other. This is the path to self-discovery. (5)
The inner mind is an extension of the mind of the universe
- listening to it leads to discovery of self and of the
universe too. The picture shows a macrocosm (the universe)
and a microcosm (a person) - one is a reflection of the
other. The best way we can come to understand the world
in that we live is to strive to know ourselves. When we
know ourselves we become wise. As a bonus, the same knowledge
can be then applied to better understand the world around
us. We can apply our understanding of self, gained by listening
to the inner mind, to the greater world outside since the
laws of nature apply equally to everything in the universe.
"The highest value is like water. The value in water
benefits all things and yet does not contend. It stays in
places that others disdain, and therefore is close to the
"The value in a dwelling is location, the value in
a mind is in it's depth, the value in relationships is benevolence,
the value in words is sincerity, the value in leadership
is order, the value in work is competence, the value in
effort is timeliness. Since they do not contend, there is
Water is a recurring image in the Tao de Ching that is used
to describe the action of the Tao and so the behaviour of
enlightened people - those who spontaneously bring benefit
or progress to situations without causing a backlash of
resistance or resentment.
Like water, enlightened people do not aspire and compete
to reach high places, rather they are content with a lower
place. This Taoist view runs contrary to the popularly held
belief that one must contend and struggle in order to achieve
The values mentioned in this passage can only be attained
with a fully expanded perspective: i.e. to achieve location
one must know the whole; to achieve depth, one must realise
the full possibilities; to achieve benevolence, one must
comprehend human nature; to achieve sincerity, one must
know inner truth; to achieve order, one must know the entire
structure; to achieve competence, one must know the results
of a perfectly executed task; to achieve good timing, one
must hold in mind both the past and the future.
With such a breadth of awareness, following conventions
is unnecessary since the instincts and intuitions that develop
lead unfailingly to fulfilment. (8)
Enlightened people emulate the Tao by bringing benefit to
a situation without incurring a backlash of resistance or
Controlling the Senses
"The five colours will blind one's eye, the five tones
will deafen one's ear, the five flavours will jade one's
taste. Racing and hunting will derange one's mind, goods
that are hard to get will obstruct one's way."
"Therefore, enlightened people regard the centre and
not the eye. Hence they discard one and receive the other."
"To follow the Tao, one must carefully control the
input to the senses in order to refine their insights and
maintain an accurate perspective on the world. A cacophony
of sights, sounds and tastes, together with an accelerated,
materially oriented life will stand in the way of accelerated
character development and inner clarity.
"Enlightened people know that intellectual independence
and social freedom come from controlling the senses. Wang
Pi, an early commenter said "The centre nourishes by
receiving inward material things. The eye enslaves by directing
the senses outward to material things. Enlightened people
care little for appearances."
In order to reach the centre - to cultivate and hear the
intuitive mind - enlightened people limit their desires.
When desires are under control, internal growth begins.
Being free of desire for superfluous possessions, free of
the desire for praise or the fear of blame brings great
Those who have powerful uncontrolled desires have limited
possibilities in life; those who are attached to little
are free to experience all. (12)
People with powerful, uncontrolled desires have limited
possibilities in life; those who are attached to very little
are free to experience all." It is like the fellow
who just can't leave the women alone. He goes from one women
to the next finding no lasting satisfaction with any of
them. It's an addiction that keeps him locked in a cycle
in that little else matters. On the other hand there is
the image of the person who has withdrawn from earthly life
to live in a retreat and contemplate his or her place in
the universe. They live quietly and simply, with very little
sensual stimulation. Every culture has them, just as every
culture has their libertines.
This concept links with passage 35 'Sensing the Insensible'
that says "When there is music together with food,
the audience will linger. When the Tao is expressed, it
seems without substance or flavour and therefore is not
very interesting to people accustomed to gaining satisfaction
from the senses." Most people in the world will say
the monastic life would be insufferably boring.
"There is alarm in both favour and disgrace in that
to attain either brings alarm, to lose either also brings
"Esteem and fear are identified with the self. This
is because the reason for our fear is the presence of our
self. When we are selfless, what is there to fear?"
"Therefore those who esteem the world as self will
be committed to the world. Those who love the world as self
will be entrusted with the world."
Strong desires that are dependent on outside events or on
the whims and judgements of others lead people away from
the cultivation of personal power.
Lao Tzu suggests that favour or disgrace (the pursuit of
honours/recognition and the fear of losing face) leads people
to identify with their own self instead of the world (and
so the Tao). By limiting external dependencies and moving
towards emotional independence, people reach a state where
their intuition is finely honed and the instincts can be
trusted. This state leads to self-love and self-understanding.
People who have mastered themselves in this way are not
ego-centric and their sense of identity reaches out into
the world around them.
Once this expanded awareness is attained, enlightened people
have a choice: they can identify with the world and it's
favours and disgraces and become committed to working within
it, or they can love and accept it in all it's many forms.
Those who love and accept the world with compassion have
the ability to guide the world and direct it's future. (13)
Expanding identification helps to remove the fear of death.
It is the presence of 'self' that causes fear. When we are
self-less, there is nothing to fear. To love the world as
though it were myself and I will be entrusted with it and
be given the ability to direct its future. To achieve this,
one must have expanded identification.
Knowing the Absolute
"Attain the highest openness; maintain the deepest
harmony. Become a part of all things. In this way I perceive
the cycles. Indeed, things are numerous; but each cycle
merges with the source. Merging with the source is called
harmonising; this is known as the cycle of destiny."
"The cycle of destiny is known as the Absolute; knowing
the Absolute is called insight. To not know the Absolute
is to recklessly become a part of misfortune."
"To know the Absolute is to become tolerant; what is
tolerant becomes impartial; what is impartial becomes powerful;
what is powerful becomes natural; what is natural becomes
Tao. What has Tao becomes everlasting (like the Tao te Ching)
and free from harm throughout life."
Lao Tzu describes the Tao - the Absolute - and expresses
his belief that one must contemplate the Absolute in order
to fully comprehend the patterns of the Tao and the destiny
of the universe in that it operates.
This passage is an awareness exercise wherein the mind is
encouraged to expand and be placed in intimate identification
with the universe and it's reach for consciousness. The
universal mind will reciprocate efforts made to know it
in an attempt to meet halfway. Worldly expectations, desires
and fixations slip away and are replaced by receptivity,
openness and integration.
Those who follow the Tao touch on the mind of the universe
with their own - they merge their consciousness with the
emergent consciousness of the universe and so become one
with the Tao, gaining insight.
These insights include an understanding of the physical
rhythms and cycles of the universe as they are reflected
in the ways of society. They are able to predict the resolution
of events and step out of the way of danger. (16)
Merge with the cycles of Nature. There is nothing in the
universe that doesn't behave in cycles. Everything in the
universe, all living creatures and inanimate things each
have their own unique cycle, and they harmonise, each with
all the rest. As conscious beings with freedom of choice,
many humans have lost the awareness of the harmony that
exists all around. As individuals, people have a mind-set
that sees itself as being separate from the rest of the
world. Enlightened people can restore their sense of harmony
and oneness by being in tune with that part of their minds
that always knew they are one with all things.
Losing the Instincts
"When the great Tao is forgotten, philanthropy and
morality appear. Intelligent strategies are produced, and
great hypocrisies emerge. (Philanthropy is good in itself,
but it can too easily develop selfish motives and lose it's
"When the family has no harmony, piety and devotion
appear. The nation is confused by chaos and loyal patriots
emerge. (Family in this context means the six relationships
- parent/child, elder sibling/younger sibling, husband/wife
and refers metaphorically to all relationships)"
Taoists believe that human instincts are basically good.
When people lose touch with their instincts righteousness
and loyalty are created by the intellect to remedy the ensuing
social deterioration. Only when a society is corrupt does
morality become an issue. Only when relationships are false-hearted
do people speak of piety and devotion. Only when a nation
is divided does the patriotic spirit arise.
According to Lao Tzu, the enforcement of the virtues mentioned
above does violence to the human instincts; they deaden
spontaneity and rob people of their emotional independence
and their sense of personal power. Those who preach morality
have lost the Way; those who rely on external systems to
interpret their experiences are also adrift.
Being philanthropic is good in itself, if it is done because
one truly wants to do it. Often though it is done for the
sake of appearances, and that is not good. The same applies
to any activity I might undertake. If I do it because I
truly want to do it, that's good - I'm going to be in touch
with my feelings and intuition while doing the act. If,
on the other hand I do something out of a sense of obligation,
the doing of the act is unsatisfying, I'm not in touch with
my true feelings because it was someone else’s feelings
that gave rise to the act.
Sensing the Insensible
"Hold fast to the Great Image, and the world will come.
Yet it's coming brings no harm, only peace and order."
"When there is music together with food, the audience
will linger. When the Tao is expressed, it seems without
substance or flavour and therefore is not very interesting
to people accustomed to gaining satisfaction from the senses."
"We observe and there is nothing to see. We listen
and there is nothing to hear. We use it and it is without
This passage describes a state of mind that leads to an
awareness of the interconnectedness and interdependence
of all things. Lao Tzu warns us that the contemplation of
the Tao may seem dull or difficult since it is not apprehensible
via the senses.
Yet he promises that an awareness of the cohesiveness of
the universe - the Great Image - leads the beholder to a
rich and powerful understanding.
The key to the Taoist perspective is to experience the complete
cohesiveness and integration of one's environment while
functioning effectively in the outside world.
Such lives take on extraordinary meaning.(35)
Making the effort to constantly look for the ways in that
the world around us is one big interconnected system pays
dividends to the observer. Since people generally look for
sensual gratification, are addicted to it, contemplation
of the Tao seems boring since there is no sensual gratification
in it. It is like studying a very abstract subject at university.
Contemplating the interconnectedness of all things brings
a powerful understanding of life. It make it possible to
intuitively know what is happening in society, how to act
in given situations and where events are likely to lead.
For example, since the laws of nature have brought forth
life on this planet it seems almost certain that there is
life on other planets. The same laws of nature operate everywhere
in the universe. so if those laws have caused life to evolve
here, then why not elsewhere?
Power Without Motive
"Superior Power is never Powerful, thus it has Power.
Inferior Power is always Powerful, thus it has no Power.
Superior Power takes no action and acts without motive.
Inferior Power takes action and acts with motive."
"Superior philanthropy takes action and acts without
motive. Superior morality takes action and acts with motive.
Superior propriety takes action and there is no response;
so it raises it's arm to project itself."
"Therefore, lose the Tao and Power follows, lose the
Power and philanthropy follows, lose the philanthropy and
morality follows, lose the morality and propriety follows,"
"One who has propriety has the veneer of truth and
yet is the leader of confusion. One who knows the future
has the lustre of the Tao and yet is ignorant of it's origins.
Therefore those with the greatest endurance can enter the
substantial, not occupy the veneer; can enter reality, not
occupy it's lustre. Hence they discard one and receive the
Evolved power is irresistible because it is based on substance
and reality and is free of motive. Power that has degenerated
into force involves complex strategies and social manipulations
because it is based on appearance and illusion.
Lao Tzu believed that morality is the invention of leaders
who cannot find truth in themselves and thus are unable
to trust others to conduct themselves appropriately.
But even more dangerous to the independently-minded Lao
Tzu was propriety - conduct that requires study, memory
and occasional hypocrisy to follow. He believed that propriety
would contaminate with motive the inherently good and truthful
instincts of humans. (Propriety refers to ceremonies, rituals
and social forms of culture; the currant standards of social
Don't be tempted to chase the kind of power that means control
over society through force and cunning. The best kind of
power is that that appears like no power at all due to its
subtlety. Overt power causes one to become superficial,
concerned with appearance and protocol. Real power derives
from being in close identification with the deeper reality
of the world. On the surface, this seems like no power at
"If the greatest achievement is incomplete, then it's
usefulness is unimpaired. If the greatest fullness is empty,
then it's usefulness is inexhaustible."
"The greatest directness is to be flexible, the greatest
skilfulness is to be awkward, the greatest eloquence is
"Agitation triumphs over the cold, stillness triumphs
over the heated. Clarity and stillness bring order to the
Enlightened people never push anything to an extreme state
- not even positive achievements - because they know that
when things are too full they are difficult to use effectively.
Only when a cup is empty is it most useful, only when an
accomplishment is open-ended does it continue to grow.
Lao Tzu believed that the world would become naturally organised
and useful if extremes are avoided and insights cultivated
into the laws of nature.
The "cold" mentioned in this passage refers to
inanimate things that need vigorous action in order to transform
them into useful tools for people.
The "heated" that is overcome by stillness refers
to humans who require centredness and clarity to evolve
into useful contributors to the collective awareness of
the world. (45)
If leaving the world a better place for having lived in
it is the measure of a useful life, then one of the best
ways is to contribute to the collective awareness of the
world. I am not defining the subsequent actions that people
might perform, I am defining the intellectual motivation
- the blueprint - for the action. The form that the action
takes will be suited to the time and place in that it is
An enlightened person can contribute by becoming still and
centred - tranquil. Tranquillity is achieved by avoiding
extremes and cultivating insights into the laws of nature.
Avoiding extremes allows you to avoid counterreactions -
the karma of your original action. Taking a middle path
avoids extremes allows you to thread your way between opposites
so lightly and so reasonably that no act is followed by
a reaction, and so there is no need for you to suffer the
consequences of the act.
The Art of Survival
"As life goes out, death comes in. Life has thirteen
paths. Human life arrives at the realm of death also in
thirteen moves. Why is this so? Because life is lived lavishly.(People
who live life in the fast lane spend their life force more
quickly and so die younger)."
"Now, as it is well-known, those skilled in attracting
life can travel across the land without meeting a rhinoceros
or tiger. When the military come in, their defence cannot
"The rhinoceros is without a place to thrust it's horn,
the tiger finds no place to fix it's claw, the military
have no place to admit it's blade. Why? They are without
the realm of death."
The thirteen paths mentioned here refer to the human senses
and their apertures. Enlightened people carefully control
and monitor what goes into and out of their senses, practising
moderation to limit output to be less than input. They know
that the life force grows stronger when the energy received
from the senses is used for internal growth.
A strong life force creates certain invulnerabilities in
life. Lao Tzu believed that people are protected from harm
not because they are lucky but because they do not cultivate
weakness (the realm of death).
Therefore, enlightened people don't put themselves into
a position where they are vulnerable to attack or misfortune.
They are aware that as life goes out, death comes in, so
they preserve their energy and engage in life-enhancing
The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long
(thank you BladeRunner). The key to a long life is to do
the following. Practice moderation in consumption and activity.
Harmonise with the cycles of nature Limit output to be less
than the input of one's senses. To know oneself to be one
with a fully integrated universe in that everything is connected
with everything else. Taoist monks routinely live well into
their second century by practising these principles.
Returning to Insight
"The beginning of the world may be regarded as the
mother of the world. To apprehend the mother, know the off-spring;
to know the off-spring is to remain close to the mother
and free from harm throughout life."
"Block the passages, close the doors; in the end, life
is idle. Open the passages, increase the undertakings; in
the end life is hopeless. To perceive the small is called
insight. To remain yielding is called strength. If, in using
brightness, one returns to insight, life will be free of
misfortune. This is called learning the Absolute."
Mother is another word for Tao. Her offspring is everything
in the universe. This passage suggests observing the physical
laws governing matter as a way of perceiving the Tao. When
one perceives the Tao, life holds no fear, for the mind
expands and becomes familiar with the unknown.
In this passage, two ways of approaching the outside world
are described. In one, people shut down their senses and
cut off external influences; in the other they open wide
their senses and lose themselves in earthly endeavours.
Both approaches have unfortunate consequences: one lacks
meaningful undertakings, the other is hopelessly entangled.
Instead, Lao Tzu suggests a strategy to lend stability to
worldly perceptions and avoid difficulties. One should continually
augment one's external view of the world with information
from one's intuitive mind. This develops a sense of the
continuous processes and patterns of life. The cultivation
of instinct and intuition is indispensable to the development
of an evolved mind. (52)
Live life fully aware of the world around, but practice
using intuition to interpret the world. Make using intuition
a habit so that the way I understand the world is based
on intuition and not on theories and ideologies originating
from outside myself. Intuition can be cultivated by learning
to recognise the laws of nature as they apply to the world
For example, one day I went to a topless bar and had a powerful
urge to have sex with the barmaid because I could see her
breasts. This information from my senses and my reaction
to the 'stimulus' could be interpreted as nature giving
all living creatures the desire to reproduce. It's a simple
'knee-jerk' reaction from a healthy male. Because I then
understood that it was a natural reaction I knew there was
nothing to feel guilty about, as a religion might have me
believe. If I had then cheated on my wife, that would be
bad and be cause for guilt. But since I dismissed the whole
thing, my conscience was clear. If I'd been religious, there
would have been guilt, simply for having had a natural feeling.
So it's better to understand things using your intuition
and not someone else's idea of what is 'right' or 'wrong'.
Establishing a Universal View
"What is skilfully established will not be uprooted.
What is skilfully grasped will not slip away. Thus it is
honoured for generations."
"Cultivate the inner self; it's power becomes real.
Cultivate the home; it's power becomes abundant. Cultivate
the community; it's power becomes greater. Cultivate the
organisation; it's power becomes prolific. Cultivate the
world; it's power becomes universal."
"Therefore, through the inner self, the inner self
is conceived. Through the home, the home is conceived. Through
the community, the community is conceived. Through the organization,
the organisation is conceived. Through the world, the world
"How do I know the world? Through this."
This passage describes the global perspective used to gain
insight into the interdependent relationship between the
individual and the outside world. Beginning with the smallest
social unit - the self - and continuing on through the family,
the community, it's governing body and world society, wherever
Taoist concepts are applied, intelligent energy is enhanced.
In order to align those social units with the Tao, their
underlying patterns must be perceived by constructing in
the mind a vision of an ideally operating social unit, one
that functions in a non-contentious, appropriately supportive
and socially aesthetic manner.
In order to conceive of an ideally functioning world, enlightened
people cultivate the inner mind. The power of a world vision
in an evolved mind helps to draw that ideal into reality.
A Taoist perspective can be achieved by recognising the
interdependence of and similarities between the microcosm
(the self) and the macrocosm (the universe). What is within
ourselves is a reflection of the larger reality outside
of ourselves. The major difference being the scale. The
ancient Greeks believed that to ''know thyself' was the
key to wisdom and the way to understand the workings of
the universe. In the same way, we can understand ourselves
by observing the way in that the world behaves.
This passage says that one can create a better world by
first creating within ourselves an image of an ideally functioning
world, made up of self-realised people living in happy groups
that are organised into well-founded communities etc. all
the way up to a enlightened world.
"Those who know, don't speak; those who speak, don't
"Block the passages, close the door, blunt the sharpness,
untie the tangles, harmonise the brightness, identify with
the ways of the world. This is called Profound Identification."
"It cannot be gained through attachment, detachment,
advantage, disadvantage, esteem or humility. Hence it is
the treasure of the world."
The first line of this passage is perhaps the most quoted
from the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu maintains that if one's understanding
of the world is based primarily on a teaching or source
that comes from outside the inner mind, then it is not a
natural structure of the universe but rather the temporary
structure of a culture. As such, it is no use to those who
follow the Tao since they rely on impressions from the intuitive
mind that evolves and changes with the universe.
To cultivate the inner mind, enlightened people who follow
the Tao engage in thought experiments that unleash the intuitive
powers and promote intellectual independence.
Enlightened people control external input, neutralise aggression,
simplify their plans and strategies, and put their awareness
into harmony with the social and environmental patterns.
In other words they achieve oneness with the evolving universe
- that is, Profound Identification. Because this state of
mind cannot be reached through social or intellectual strategies,
people who achieve this state cannot be used or coerced.
They have achieved personal power through incorruptible
simplicity and inner truth. (56)
Intellectual independence, or not relying on external ideologies
to understand the world is essential for people wanting
to know the world directly. Independence allows the intuitive
mind to develop.
Knowing the Disease
"To know that you don't know is best. To not know of
knowing is a disease."
"Indeed, to be sick of the disease is the way to be
free of the disease. Enlightened people are free of the
disease because they are sick of the disease. This is the
way to be free of the disease."
Enlightened people are always aware that there is something
they don't know. In the Taoist view, it's considered a great
misfortune to be unaware of one's ignorance, whether in
interpersonal matters, worldly affairs or within the self.
Those who are developing personal power learn to recognise
an ever-evolving universe of information they are yet to
This attitude is paramount to the personal development of
the enlightened person. It frees them from the decline that
comes from being to full and too complete to grow further.
It is vital to have an open mind to remain aware of an evolving
intellectual environment. New ideas emerge - some worthy
some not. By a combination of openness and intuition, one
can decide for oneself if a new idea has merit.
For example, the 'green' movement is gathering strength
around the world. Their agenda is to place the long-term
health of the environment ahead of short-term economic gain.
Those people who are vehemently opposed to 'green' ideas
have closed their minds to these new ideas about preserving
the environment. They are unaware of their own ignorance.
The Tao in Projection
A group of sixteen passages that are a set of thought experiments
that help people to use attitude and conduct to cultivate
personal power and influence within their environment.
The sixteen passages are as follows:
The Beginning of Power
The Power in Subtle Force
Following the Pattern
The Steady Force of Attitude
The Power in Needing Less
Opening the Mind
Knowing the Tao
The Power in Flexibility
Directing the Power
The Power in Not Taking Advantage
The Evolved Way
The Beginning of Power
"The Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao of the
Absolute. The name that can be named is not the name of
the Absolute. The nameless originated Heaven and Earth.
The named is the Mother of all things."
"Thus, without expectation, one will always perceive
the subtlety; and with expectation, one will always perceive
"The source of these two is identical, yet their names
are different. Together they are called profound, profound
and mysterious. The gateway to the collective subtlety."
Lao Tzu is at his most mysterious in this passage, and though
it embodies many of the major elements of the philosophy
of the Tao Te Ching, these elements are presented in more
depth in other passages.
In the Taoist cosmology, the Absolute (nameless) created
a universe composed of matter and energy. The Tao (named)
is the behaviour of the physical laws that coalesce matter
and energy in all things in the universe and direct their
Lao Tzu urges people to drop their expectations, discard
their preconceived ideas and abandon any system of knowing
that might limit their horizons. When expectations are dropped,
the mind expands and reality expands along with the mind.
Rather than merely perceiving where things are and where
they have been (boundary) a person can begin to perceive
the direction in that things are going (the subtlety).
There is obvious power in apprehending the probabilities
of the future, but moreover, a subtler power develops -
one that brings insight and centredness.
People begin to sense their potential ability to direct
events with the force of their minds. They have located
the path to personal power - the "Gateway to the Collective
When after careful consideration of the way in that Nature
works, a person is able to anticipate likely future events
and in some cases influence the course of those events by
carefully directing the flow of energy, then that person
has reached the gateway to the 'collective subtlety' - they
are able to harmonise their own actions with nature.
"When the world knows beauty as beauty, there is ugliness.
When they know good as good, then there is evil. In this
way, existence and non-existence produce each other, difficult
and easy complete each other, long and short contrast each
other, high and low attract each other, pitch and tone harmonise
each other, future and past follow each other."
"Therefore, enlightened people hold their position
without effort, practice their philosophy without words,
are a part of all things and overlook nothing, they produce
but do not possess, act without expectation, succeed without
The underlying principle of Taoism - as in the physical
sciences - is that of complementarity or polarity. Every
action has a complementary reaction. Every pole is matched
by one of opposite charge. The intellectual goal of the
Taoist, then, is to find the correlation between the way
matter and energy behave in Nature and the way that humans
behave in society.
Enlightened people use their awareness and understanding
of the physical laws to shape events in their world. They
know that nothing exists without the presence of it's own
opposite. Therefore they control their environment by avoiding
extremes, even in a direction that might be considered "good".
They do not preach their philosophy, they overlook nothing
in their environment and don't try to possess things, not
even their own ideas and work. They don't shoulder the burden
of great expectations and especially don't take credit for
their achievements. As a result, Nature and society are
forced to balance towards them by bestowing credit. (2)
The constant ebb and flow as energy becomes matter then
back to energy, as positive becomes negative then back to
positive is what we need to recognize in the world around
us. The sum remains the same, but the proportion of the
parts is constantly changing. At one instant, a situation
might involve one third positive, two thirds negative, the
next instant it might contain equal measures of positive
and negative, then in the next instant it might contain
one third negative and two thirds positive. It may not be
possible to always predict the exact proportion of positive
and negative in a situation at a precise moment, but we
can estimate it by looking at what it was like before and
be certain that whatever the proportion, the sum will always
be exactly one.
"Holding to fullness is not as good as stopping in
time. Sharpness that probes cannot protect for long. A house
filled with riches cannot be defended."
"Pride in wealth and position is overlooking one's
collapse. Withdrawing when success is achieved is the Tao
After developing situations and achieving success, enlightened
people don't linger to experience the inevitable decline.
They know that if they stop to identify with their accomplishments
their inner growth ends and their decline begins. They don't
"rest on their laurels" unless their want to stagnate.
Nothing in Nature is static; all things that reach their
maturity - whether plants and animals or planets and stars
must necessarily decline.
Therefore enlightened people never stop growing and never
accumulate social or material burdens to slow their progress.
When their work is done they move on to the next task. In
this way they develop greatness and power. (9)
Resting on one's laurels is a sure way to go into decline
since this involves achieving fullness then holding to it.
Better to move on to the next challenge, even though this
involves descending from the peak that was so laboriously
attained, down into the valley that lies before the next
peak of one's chosen career.
Another way of looking at the idea is to recognise that
we must keep moving forward if we are not to go into decline.
Like a shark that has stopped swimming will sink. The world
and everything in it is moving forward. If we try to go
slower than the pace of our environment, then we hurt and/or
exhaust ourselves. If we try to go faster then we similarly
Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are moving
at all, so big and majestic It is. It’s like being
on a raft in the middle of a very wide river. So wide, we
can’t even see the banks. The raft is moving, but
because the surrounding water is moving at the same pace
it doesn’t seem like we are moving at all.
So by not resting on our laurels, by moving with the world,
we stay in harmony. To do otherwise is to die by inches.
"In managing your instincts and embracing Oneness,
can you be undivided? In focusing your influence can you
yield as a new-born child? In clearing your insight, can
you become free of error? In loving people and leading the
organisation, can you take no action? In opening and closing
the gateway to nature, can you not weaken? In seeing clearly
in all directions, can you be without knowledge?"
"Produce things, cultivate things; produce but do not
possess. Act without expectation, advance without dominating.
These are called the Subtle Powers."
Taoists strive to recognise and reconcile the extremes in
human nature. On one side is aggressiveness and conscious
motive; on the other is spontaneity and the need for social
They know that the power they develop through work on the
inner mind can only be maintained by resolving this inner
polarity. Enlightened people know that all of their experiences
are a reflection of their level of cultivation, so they
work deeply. They learn to achieve their purpose and master
their environment by remaining objective and open to all
forms of information.
They avoid aggressive action and transcend unworthy desires.
Instead they shape their environment and direct the future
with the influence of their intellectual gravity. These
are the Subtle Powers. (10)
Resolving one’s inner polarity is the key to spiritual
growth. There is a tendency for people to undo their good
efforts through the action of this inner polarity. The first
step is to recognise the action of this polarity and relate
this action to the action of outer polarity - seen in societal
affairs and in Nature generally. The polarity cannot be
abolished only balanced. For example the libido should be
balanced against a heightened sense of responsibility. One
cannot go around copulating indiscriminately, the consequences
would be dreadful. So the desire to copulate must be converted
into wanting to improve oneself and others.
Enlightened people realise that their progress through life
can be gauged by the experiences that befall them. They
know that what happens externally is caused by what is going
on inside them. They develop their intuition that allows
a person to reconcile their outer experiences with their
inner experiences and to resolve the polarity that would
otherwise cause them to swing back and forth like a pendulum.
The Tao in Subtle Force
"Those skilful in the ancient Tao are subtly ingenious
and profoundly intuitive. They are so deep they cannot be
recognised. Since, indeed, they cannot be recognised their
force can be contained."
"So careful, as if wading in a stream in winter. So
hesitant, as if respecting all sides in the community. So
reserved, as if acting as a guest. So yielding, as if ice
about to melt. So candid, as if acting with simplicity.
So open, as if acting as a valley. So integrated, as if
acting as muddy water."
"Who can harmonise with muddy water and gradually arrive
at clarity? Who can move with stability, and gradually bring
endurance to life?"
"Those who maintain the Tao do not desire to become
full. Indeed, since they are not full, they can be used
up and also renewed."
In this passage, Lao Tzu refers to reality as muddy water
and suggests that in order to gain insight into it's unfolding
pattern, one must be able to harmonise with it's implicit
unity and simplicity. Moreover, in order to use those insights
to guide reality one must move with a stability that causes
no outside resistance.
Enlightened people know that the less obvious they make
their advantage, the more effective their power becomes.
Thus, when using their power, enlightened people are hesitant
and reserved. They spend their power to bring clarity and
cooperation into their world. They are candid, open and
integrated with their environment. They act as conduits
not accumulators for energy and matter.
In this way, enlightened people are always replenished with
the new and vital as they continue to develop insight and
There is power in subtlety in that the power, being subtle,
is not recognised by people. Not being recognised, it attracts
no reaction. For example, if a dictator grabs power in a
bloody coup, the country rises up in resistance and the
dictator must spent a prolonged period dealing with the
reaction to his initial action. If, on the other hand, he
were to work quietly, from within the existing government
to bring about a revolution, it would barely be recognised
by the people and the change of government would seem like
a natural progression, a kind of evolution. The people are
unlikely to oppose evolution. A naked grab for power lacks
subtlety. A lack of subtlety is the trademark of people
who are either ignorant or impatient or both.
"Discard the academic; have no anxiety. How much difference
is there between agreement and servility? How much difference
between good and evil? That one should revere what others
revere - how absurd!"
"The Collective Mind is expansive and flourishing,
as if receiving a great gift. As if ascending a living observatory.
I alone remain uncommitted, like an infant who has not yet
smiled, unattached, without a place to merge. The collective
mind is all-encompassing. I alone seem to be over-looked.
I am unknowing to the core, and unclear, unclear!"
"Ordinary people are bright and obvious; I alone am
dark and obscure. Ordinary people are exacting and sharp;
I alone am subdued and dull. "
"Indifferent like the sea, ceaseless like a penetrating
wind, the Collective mind is everpresent, and yet I alone
am unruly and remote. I alone am different from the others
in treasuring nourishment from the Mother."
Lao Tzu urges people to step out of the crowd - to discard
dogma and explore the universe with an open, independent
mind; a mind not bound by preconceived ideas. To achieve
independence, to become centred and evolved, one must be
unattached and uncommitted to any ideology, since the truth
about reality can only come through direct experience. Whether
seeking the reality in a relationship, society or in the
universe, it can only be done via the intuitive mind.
Enlightened people not only contribute to the collective
awareness of human-kind, they also use their global perspective
(living observatory) to know the Tao (mother) and ascertain
the direction of evolution.
They are never obvious or exacting because they know that
such extremes lead to the collapse of systems and individuals;
and they never fall completely into step with the current
society because they also hear the voice of the future.
It is important to make a deliberate effort at keeping an
open mind, in whatever situation you find yourself. Even
if you think you know what is happening, what the underlying
causes of a situation are, avoid the assumption that they
are the actual causes. Evaluate the situation without preconceived
ideas and you will be much more likely to perceive the real
situation and so be in a position to react appropriately.
Many a parent has disgusted and disappointed their adolescent
children by reacting as though they, the parent, know all
there is to know, including how the younger person feels.
It is painfully evident to the younger person that the older
one has a bunch of smugly-held preconceived ideas. So we
see the “generation gap”.
Following the Pattern
"What is curved becomes whole; what is crooked becomes
straight. What is deep becomes full; what is exhausted is
refreshed. What is small becomes attainable; what is excessive
becomes confused. Thus enlightened people hold to the One
and regard the world as their pattern."
"They do not display themselves and so they are illuminated.
They do not define themselves, so they are distinguished.
They do not make claims, therefore they are given credit.
They don't boast, so it is they advance."
"Since they don't compete, the world does not, cannot
compete with them. The ancient saying 'What is curved becomes
whole' - are these empty words? To become whole, turn within."
Lao Tzu realised that many of the physical laws of nature
are reflected in the affairs of society. He saw a pattern
of change that is independent of the movements of the solar
system; i.e. not governed by the passage of time but instead
governed by cause and effect.
The Taoist goal is to transcend cause and effect (thus gaining
control over it) by coming into harmony and balance with
the environment. Enlightened people regard an obvious attempt
to gain power and position as a dangerous cause that may
result in an uncontrolled effect.
They achieve their aims by consolidating their personal
power - drawing within themselves the energy that derives
from the universal perspective and awareness - i.e. the
awareness that the universe is integrated and interconnected.
Enlightened people use this power to enrich their inner
selves rather than spend it on external appearances that
only serve to draw a person into competition and possibly
conflict with society.
Thus they develop intellectual gravity that is a powerful
influence in the shaping of society. In society, as in the
universe at large, events are inextricably linked to the
distribution of gravity among the participants. (22)
It is better to hide your light under a bushel than it is
to display it like a beacon. Why is this true when the conventional
wisdom of our society encourages people to display themselves?
Because such a display in Nature is excessive, and excess
is reduced through natural attrition. Once we realise that
there is no good reason to seek prominence, that it is better
to exert subtle influence behind the scenes, we are able
to achieve stability and longevity. So long as we work behind
the scenes the laws of Nature will not act to reduce our
position. An example of the folly of fame is the young pop
artist who becomes famous overnight but who nevertheless
kills himself when the pressure becomes too much. Like Kurt
Cobain of Nirvana fame, wealth and popularity do not necessarily
bring happiness or enlightenment.
The Steady Force of Attitude
"Nature rarely speaks, hence the whirlwind does not
last all morning, nor the sudden rainstorm last the whole
day. What causes these - Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and
Earth can't make them long-lasting, how much less so can
"Thus, those who cultivate the Tao identify with the
Tao and so are welcomed by the Tao. Those who cultivate
Power identify with Power and are likewise welcomed by Power.
Those who cultivate failure identify with failure are welcomed
"Those who lack belief will not in turn be believed."
Aggressive movements towards one's aims, like whirlwinds
and downpours have no lasting effect. Violent actions cannot
be sustained because they inevitably generate a counteraction
that neutralises the original force.
So nature rarely speaks, and when it does it expresses the
exception that proves the rule - that is, the principal
force in nature is one of steady, harmonious transformation.
Enlightened people know that heated confrontations do not
yield long-term results. Only attitudes that can be sustained
have the power to alter reality.
The "Power" mentioned in this passage and elsewhere
throughout the Tao Te Ching is the power over one's continuing
reality. Personal power brings independence and freedom
into the life of the individual and it is continuously cultivated
through attitude and projection.
What one believes, one becomes. The more of a "mind"
one has to believe with, the more profound the transformation.
Power over others, on the other hand, is a subtle form of
Steady harmonious transformation - if you want to change
yourself, begin by changing the way you think. Picture yourself
the way you want to be and maintain the picture. The thought
becomes a reality when it begins to manifest in your actions.
Your actions become habits, your habits are what defines
your character, and it is your character that defines your
destiny. None of this happens quickly. Only by steady harmonious
transformation can you do it.
By being aware of the natural processes of change, you can
employ them to transform yourself into an insightful master
of your own environment. The power that is derived from
being master of your destiny should not be displayed and
wasted, rather it should be ploughed back into your own
mind to further enrich it.
Those who know others are intelligent.
Those who know themselves have insight.
Those who master others have force.
Those who master themselves have strength.
Those who know how much is enough are wealthy.
Those who persevere have direction.
Those who maintain their position endure.
And those who die but do not perish, live on.
Self-knowledge and self-mastery are the primary Taoist accomplishments.
They are achieved when individuals cultivate their inner
mind, refine their instincts and intuitive responses to
The result is insight; the ability to perceive the larger
influences behind specific social phenomena. To know the
inner mind and perceive it's connection with the evolving
mind of the universe is the foundation for foresight and
Through inner knowledge, one develops the ability to alter
the world through small, effortless actions at the beginning
of events. It's essential to discriminate between clever
force and insightful strength, since only the latter will
not meet with resistance or cause counter-reactions.
Those who die and do not perish are those who leave the
affairs of the world in a more evolved state than they found
It is far better to know yourself than it is to know others.
Better to have mastery over yourself than mastery over others.
It is better to know how much is enough than it is have
too much. Better to persevere in a cause that will leave
the world a better place than it is to switch quickly between
To know yourself is to develop an awareness that your mind
is a reflection of a much larger mind - that of the evolving
universe. It creates a sense of oneness with all things.
With that sense of oneness comes deep intuition into the
nature of the universe - what we call insight. To know others
is to only see a collection of small, apparently independent
minds. To have mastery over yourself is to be able to look
into your own mind and have insight into the universe.
As I drove to work today I had an insight. After looking
deeply into my own mind I realised that the shape and form
and practices of our mundane world and it’s societies
is actually a shared illusion, a collective hallucination,
a collaborative effort of many minds. The way humans think
and behave has a high degree of uniformity. Apparent differences
are relatively small when compared with the many things
we all share in common. We are all driven by the same basic
motives, we are all wired according to the same basic blueprint.
Therefore it’s logical that our uniform thoughts and
behaviour is capable of creating a uniform environment.
The world around us that we perceive and react to is a collective
thoughtform, generated by our uniform thoughts. Our collective
thoughts create a reality that seems outside of us and to
be larger than us. It all seems so real that most of us
never realise that it is an illusion or that there might
be any other kind of reality.
I had a lot more to say on this, but I was interrupted by
a colleague and now I can’t remember any more of what
I wanted to say. For a few minutes I had existed both in
and out of our everyday world. I had glimpses at the truth.
A fifteen second conversation brought me firmly back into
the mundane world exclusively.
The Power in Needing Less
"That is dearer, name or life? That means more, life
or wealth? That is worse, gain or loss? The stronger the
attachments, the greater the cost. The more that is hoarded,
the deeper the loss."
"Know what is enough, be without disgrace. Know when
to stop, be without danger. In this way, one lasts for a
very long time."
People who are materially oriented - those who identify
and define themselves in terms of their possessions - have
no real purpose other than to shuffle matter from place
to place and to reproduce life-forms who have the potential
for intellectual evolution.
Materially-minded people can't evolve intellectually because
their attachment to and hoarding of matter trains the mind
to view reality as fixed and unfolding. This view is in
harmony with dying, not growth and so they cannot connect
with the larger meaning behind consciousness.
Taoists know they are in a more powerful position when they
are mobile, unburdened and independent. For them, excessive
possessions are seen as ballast; something to be released
in order to achieve greater buoyancy.
Just as air rushes in to fill a vacuum, more things will
come into and out of such lives. Most importantly, the capacity
to need less and pass things on brings enlightened people
closer to themselves and to the continuous unfolding of
The power in needing less - the less you have, the less
you will be blinded to the subtle existence of the Tao by
the material possessions you do have. And the more possessions
you have, the harder you have to work to maintain them and
guard them against those who want to take them from you.
All of that leaves you less time and inclination to work
at being in harmony with the Tao. Material possessions are
not of themselves bad, it is that they have the potential
to blind people to the reality of the Tao unless that person
takes positive steps to avoid being blinded.
Animals and plants show the power in needing less. They
have little except their lives and the environment in that
they live. They are in harmony with the Tao and usually
need nothing more for their survival. Humans, with our highly
developed conscious minds, have the ability to change our
environment, to craft things that increase our chances of
survival. The tendency to avoid is when those survival accessories
become an end in themselves. As long as we see them as a
means to an end (our continued survival with a degree of
comfort) and not an end in themselves, we can avoid being
blinded by materialism.
Opening the Mind
"Enlightened people have no fixed mind; they make the
group mind their mind. To those who are good, I am good,
to those who are bad, I am also good - goodness is Power."
"Of those who trust, I am trusting; of those who do
not trust, I am also trusting. Trust is Power."
"Enlightened people attract the world and merge with
it's mind. The people all focus their eyes and ears; enlightened
people all act as infants."
Enlightened people keep their minds open and impartial because
fixed opinions or belief systems distort the flow of pure
information coming in from the outside world. They enhance
their understanding of the outside world and their position
in it by merging with the collective mind of humanity -
what Carl Jung called the group subconscious. They don't
rely solely on information gained through their eyes and
ears but look beyond with an open heart and mind.
In this way, infantlike they can act upon the world without
unbalancing it. By trusting those who cannot find trust
in themselves, and showing goodness to those who are not
good people, enlightened people are emulating the Tao. They
are using an opposing force to neutralise an extreme thus
altering the internal reality of untrusting, mean people.
This response runs contrary to the common one where aggression
is met with aggression, hate with hate, anger with anger.
In observing the laws of Nature, enlightened people realise
that acid is not neutralised by acid, it is neutralised
by infusing it's opposite - alkali. Lao Tzu believed that
the ability to alter reality by neutralising extremes is
the ultimate power that will bring peace to the world. (49)
The mind of humanity, the group mind, is an intermediate
step between our individual minds and the universal mind.
The group mind is a stepping stone that we can use to perceive
the larger universal mind. It allows us to go beyond ourselves
and see ourselves in relation to the universe. We can merge
our individual minds with the group mind by opening our
minds, allowing our sense of identity, our ego, to be diminished.
The difficulty is that the ego is surrounded by many defence
mechanisms and has the ability to defend itself against
perceived threats. In fact, the death of the ego, the dissolution
of the personal self is said to be the way in that we achieve
ultimate enlightenment and liberation from this world of
suffering. It is perhaps the biggest challenge we have and
it may take hundreds of lifetimes to raise one’s awareness
to the point of recognising this fact. It’s worth
doing because then we can merge our minds with the larger
mind of humanity and the universe and by setting aside selfish
thoughts, open the mind to unlimited wisdom.
Another aspect of opening the mind is to avoid adopting
fixed, unyielding ideas. People often develop fixed ideas
as they grow older. They adopt a belief system early in
life and guard it against change thereafter. It is seen
to be a virtue to “stick by your principles”.
To be a virtue, the principle has to be an ultimate, unchanging
truth and there are very few if any truths that can be said
to be ultimate and unchanging. Something may have been true
once, but times change and everything in the world changes
with it. To try and fix one’s ideas in time is folly.
It’s far better to remain open-minded and change with
the world as it changes. An example of this is where people
in their adolescence identify with the current pop music
and fixate upon it. As they grow older they can be heard
to decry the current pop music. They only listen to their
old music and claim that it is better than anything that’s
been along since. This is certainly a symptom of fixed ideas.
People should listen to the current pop music and appreciate
it in it’s own right as being a good or bad as any
previous or future pop music.
Changing with the times, “going with the flow”
is also an excellent way to live long since one is conserving
energy by moving with the flow rather than spending energy
trying to go against it. It is like a swimmer caught in
a rip. He may have enough energy to swim for an hour. By
going with the rip he will very likely be able to swim ashore
within an hour, even if he’s several kilometres down
the beach by then. By swimming against the rip he probably
won’t be a strong enough swimmer to make progress
against it so even if he swam for five hours he still wouldn’t
reach the shore. After an hour he’s exhausted and
no closer to saving himself. The current, representing the
Tao, is completely indifferent to the plight of the swimmer.
It is an accurate metaphor of a human life. We have a certain
time to live, a certain amount of energy to spend. “The
flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
We can spend it quickly, in a furious sprinting burst, or
we can pace ourselves like a marathon swimmer. When I go
swimming at the pool I always begin with a steady 1000 metre
warm up. There are often other swimmers there who sprint
up and down, but they are long gone by the time I finish
Knowing the Tao
"My words are very easy to know, very easy to follow.
Yet the world is unable to know them, unable to follow them."
"My words have a source, my efforts have mastery. Indeed,
since none know this they do not know me. The rare ones
who know me must treasure me."
"Therefore, enlightened people wear a coarse cloth
covering with precious jade at the centre."
Lao Tzu's philosophy is remarkable since it defies logical
analysis, yet readily submits to intuitive understanding.
In this passage he speaks directly to us using the voice
of the Tao.
In early China, only the ruling classes could read, so Lao
Tzu was quite certain of his audience. He seems to assume
that the reader wouldn't have the Tao Te Ching in their
hands had they not been selected to influence the world.
He hoped to instil in the minds of leaders an intuitive
knowing that would allow them to peer into the future and
allow them to perceive the evolution of society. He believed
this would give the enlightened person the power to become
more compassionately understanding of themselves and their
To the enlightened person, Lao Tzu says - surround your
advantages with simplicity (a coarse cloth covering). Those
who follow the Tao introduce simplicity to their lives by
releasing themselves from the bondage of materialism and
the discipline of elaborate social strategies. They experience
high levels of intellectual independence and personal freedom
and so continually renew their intuitive advantage. (70)
Enlightened people are in a position to influence society
in many ways, ranging from direct to the subtle. The determining
factor is whether the person has a clear idea of the direction
society is moving. The clearer the perceived direction,
the more effectively they will be able to position themselves
to achieve a particular effect. For example, society is
moving in a direction in that individuals are becoming increasingly
isolated. People “cocoon” themselves behind
closed doors because almost everything they need can be
delivered and because the world is becoming an apparently
more violent place where people run the risk of being the
victim of random acts of violence. While cocooning can satisfy
an individual’s need for comfort and security it neglects
their need for meaningful social interaction. They become
more withdrawn and unable to communicate. A growing sense
of something important being missing from their lives makes
itself felt. An enlightened person could meet this situation
by catering to the needs of cocooned people wanting to emerge
and have more social contact in a pleasant, non-threatening
The Power in Flexibility
"A living person is yielding and receptive. Dying,
they are rigid and inflexible. All things, the grass and
the trees; living, they are yielding and fragile. Dying,
they are dry and withered."
"Thus, those who are firm and inflexible are in harmony
with dying. Those who are yielding and receptive are in
harmony with living."
"Therefore, an inflexible strategy will not succeed;
an inflexible tree will be attacked. The position of the
highly inflexible will descend; the position of the yielding
and receptive will ascend."
Through their observations of Nature, Taoists know that
what survives on earth is that that quickly adapts to changing
circumstances in the environment. It is because the universe
is evolving and that everything in it is developing and
changing. Therefore any inflexibility in systems of belief,
in patterns of behaviour or in habits of physical or intellectual
nourishment can cause one to respond to external stimuli
in a way that leads to extinction.
Similar situations should not necessarily elicit the same
reaction over time - because in time everything changes.
Fixed and unintuitive responses stops personal growth and
puts one in harmony with dying.
Cultivating flexibility, on the other hand, will fine tune
the instinctive responses so that one might, indeed, inherit
the earth. (76)
It seems so obvious yet it is so very difficult for people
to see how they have become inflexible as they grow older.
A new born baby is flexible in the sense that he adapts
to whatever situation he finds himself in. That same person,
fifty years later has very firm ideas about the circumstances
in that they live. It’s hardly surprising - people
love habit. It gives us a sense of security - something
that we aren’t born with. We develop habits to fill
just about every moment of our waking lives.
Directing the Power
"The Tao in Nature is like a bow that is stretched.
The top is pulled down, the bottom is pulled up. What is
excessive is reduced. What is insufficient is supplemented."
"The Tao in Nature reduces the excessive and supplements
the insufficient. The Tao in mankind is not so; he reduces
the insufficient because he serves the excessive."
"Who then can use excess to serve the world? Those
who possess the Tao. Therefore enlightened people act without
expectation, succeed without taking credit, and have no
desire to display their excellence."
Taoists are aware of Nature's tendency to balance extremes
in the environment. On the ecological plane, Nature is adept
at reducing a species that has grown too dominant and carefully
supporting those that are most fragile. On the atomic level,
this balancing can be observed in the way that overcharged
particles seek out their opposite to stabilise their existence.
So too in society; people who try to dominate others trigger
a natural psychological response from their society; a collective
urge to neutralise the effect of excessive members. The
complement of this response, in society, is the urge to
direct help towards people with insufficient means.
Because enlightened people understand this pattern of energy
in the universe, they are able to use it to protect their
position while they bring progress to their world. So that
energy will flow in their direction, they reduce their position
by maintaining an atmosphere of moderation and humility
in their relations with others.
They use this attitude to alter reality through the focus
of their attitudes and convictions. (77)
By positioning yourself to benefit others without taking
credit, the power is directed towards you. In other words
- good karma. For example, if someone with sufficient means
were to donate $1,000 a month to an international welfare
agency like World Vision (for $35 per month, a whole community
in a developing country gets clean water, sanitation, education
etc) that person would be bringing direct benefit to thousands
of people ($1,000 equals around 30 sponsorships. Alternately,
$1,000 is about how much someone might spend per month to
lease say a BMW 5 series car that they use for self-agrandisement.
That $1,000 does not bring the same degree of benefit as
that that was donated to World Vision.
Money therefore is not bad in itself, it’s what people
have to do to get it and what they do with it once they
have it that can make money evil. A rich person has the
potential to bring great benefit to the world - or great
harm. The more money someone has, the more modest they need
to be if the money is not to corrupt them. A person could
remind themselves that they can’t take it with them
when they shuffle-off their mortal coil. For their own sakes
and the sakes of their fellow man, it’s better to
use money to bring benefit to the world while living. They
will be a better person when they do die.
The Power in Not Taking Advantage
"Even when a great resentment is reconciled, some resentment
must linger. How can this be made good?"
"That is why enlightened people hold the left side
of the contract* and do not censure others. Those with power
are in charge of the contract, those without power are in
charge of resolving it. The Tao in Nature has no favourites.
It always acts through the good person."
Whenever there is an obligation between two individuals,
it is the responsibility of the more powerful person to
avert the possibility of lingering resentment; resentment
that could cloud future events. When enlightened people
hold the "left side" of the contract, they know
that they can attract power through compassionate and generous
behaviour. They also know that if, on the other hand, they
use their advantage to demand fulfilment from the other
party they will engender a resentment that one day might
harm their endeavours.
Instead, through their magnanimity they use their advantage
to create appreciation and harmony. Thus they pave the way
to a future more aligned to their needs. Should the other
party not fulfil their obligation, enlightened people gain
a deep understanding of when and with whom to enter agreements.
Such an understanding will protect them throughout life.
* The word contract derives from the ancient term describing
the bamboo tallies that were inscribed with the details
of an agreement, then split into two. The right side was
held by the debtor, the left side by the creditor. (79)
In relationships, I’ve noticed how conflicts can be
resolved by one side simply removing the “pride”
element from their position in a dispute. Pride seems to
be the enemy of a harmonious relationship. Pride also seems
to be a quality that is opposite to the Tao that assumes
the lowest position.
The Evolved Way
"Sincere words are not embellished; embellished words
are not sincere. Those who are good are not defensive; those
who are defensive are not good. Those who know are not erudite;
those who are erudite do not know."
"Enlightened people do not accumulate. The more they
do for others, the more they gain; the more they give to
others, the more they possess."
"The Tao of Nature is to serve without spoiling. The
Tao of enlightened people is to act without contending."
Reality, integrity, insight - characteristics cultivated
by Taoists must not be allowed to become distorted. If the
truth is not enhanced and embellished, it has less chance
of becoming an illusion. If actions are not quickly justified
by words, then good works can shine through; if knowledge
goes deeper than worldly matters and runs deep into the
Self, then Wisdom will grow.
Enlightened people know that hoarding goods (matter), services
(energy) or information runs contrary to the laws of Nature,
and such actions will create a dangerous personal imbalance.
In order to continually align themselves with the Tao and
stabilise their position within the flow of people and events,
they dispense with what they have so that more might flow
freely through their hands. They avoid acting in a way that
suggests aggressiveness or contention - thus they don't
invite counter-reactions that might deflect them from the
The evolved way of living one’s life revolves around
doing the maximum amount of good in the most unobtrusive
way. The reward is not honour and recognition from society
but the deep satisfaction of knowing that one is emulating
the Tao and is thereby in harmony with it. It might be quite
difficult for people to do good for others, much less do
it in an unobtrusive way, and that is because the ego gets
in the way, asserting it’s pre-eminence. It whispers
alarming doubts and fears that make a person fearful of
losing what they have. It slyly suggests that the best thing
to do is to be selfish.
The Tao in Leadership
The 16 passages of this chapter are aimed directly at those
in positions of leadership and influence. Each passage describes
the ideal relationship between the leader and those that
follow. They reveal the most effective methods of managing
others and achieving goals.
The sixteen passages are as follows:
The Way of Subtle Influence
Return to Simplicity
The Gravity of Power
Uniting the Forces
The Power in Desirelessness
Oneness in Leadership
The Power in Effortlessness
Cultivating the Centre
Holding the Position
The Tao in Leaders
The Danger in Cleverness
The Power in Staying Low
The Power in Compassion
Non Aggressive Strength
The Appropriate Perspective
"Do not exalt the very gifted, and people will not
contend. Do not treasure goods that are hard to get, and
people will not become thieves. Do not focus on desires,
and people's minds will not be confused."
"Therefore, enlightened people lead others by opening
their minds, reinforcing their centres, relaxing their desires
and strengthening their characters."
"Let the people always act without strategy or desire;
let the clever not venture to act. Act without action and
nothing is without order."
Enlightened people know that their attitudes have greater
influence than their actions. They know that the things
they respect and value soon become the motivating force
behind their people. Therefore they openly value worthwhile
qualities that others can achieve - integrity, flexibility,
They don't emphasise extraordinary achievements or impressive
possessions because they know these things will undermine
the harmony and accord among the people. Enlightened people
bring peace and progress to their organisation through the
force of correct attitude. They practice non-interference
and shape events with the power of their attitudes (3).
Lead by example, lead by having an open, enlightened mind,
lead by remaining true to ourselves, lead by being free
of desire and having strength of character. Such a person
is a natural leader, one who is respected and whose example
is followed. It is the opposite of the tyrant who is closed-minded
and ignorant, who uses force to make people cooperate and
who is full of base desires.
The Way of Subtle Influence
"Superior leaders are those whose existence is merely
known; the next best are loved and honoured; the next are
respected and the next are ridiculed."
"Those who lack belief will not in turn be believed.
But when the command comes from afar and the work is done,
the goal is achieved, the people say 'We did it naturally.'"
Subtle authority is particularly suited to the temperaments
of those who would be led. When leaders become overbearing
and interfere with the lives of their people, the task of
leading becomes unnatural. But when leaders hold back and
establish goals indirectly - through trusting and carefully
worded commands - people find satisfaction with their work
and become more productive.
By not interfering, enlightened leaders are able to remain
unobtrusive. As a result, they gain power from the people's
sense of self-government. The more they conceal their power,
the more effectively it can be used.
Enlightened leaders are impartial, intuitive and aware.
Their influence and power comes from using their energy
to guide rather than to rule. (17)
The superior leader whose existence is merely known is an
intriguing figure. Their influence is great but is not recognised
by the people generally. People don’t realise how
much influence they have. It is more difficult to be this
kind of leader than the higher profile type since to remain
hidden calls for more subtly than the average leader has.
Because people like to exercise their sense of self-government,
the subtle leader gains power by allowing them to feel empowered.
Return to Simplicity
"Discard the sacred, abandon strategies; the people
will benefit a hundred-fold. Discard philanthropy, abandon
morality; the people will return to natural love. Discard
acquisitiveness, abandon cleverness; the thieves will exist
"However, if these three passages are inadequate, adhere
to these principles: perceive purity, embrace simplicity,
reduce self-interest, limit desires."
Taoists don't rely on social techniques that must be learned.
Even philanthropy and morality are externally imposed ways
of civilised behaviour that emerge in societies where useful
instincts are lost and people no longer trust themselves.
Enlightened leaders strive to be intuitive, spontaneous
and simple. From this base they travel lighter, journey
farther and survive longer.
In this passage, leaders are urged to use attitude as a
form of influence in order to transform their subjects.
How? Perceive and acknowledge integrity whenever it appears;
attach less emphasis to self-interest and limit desires
by learning to recognise that the greatest happiness in
life comes in moments of the purest simplicity (that is
plain, like a piece of uncarved wood). (19)
The advice here is to free oneself from the restraints of
tradition - the so-called “wisdom of the ages”
that is a straightjacket for the mind. A leader who brings
this approach to leadership allows the organisation to function
naturally, in proper response to the conditions in that
it finds itself. A tradition-bound leader will base his
decisions on precedent “what did my predecessors do
in this situation” or “in 1793, our illustrious
leader did this in response to a similar situation”.
These prefabricated responses lack insight and run a high
risk of not being appropriate for the situation at hand.
There is a tendency to assume that philanthropy is an absolute
good. If it is done with the wrong motives it is not an
absolute good. By discarding philanthropy, a well-intentioned
person will naturally perform actions that benefit the world
- there is no need to rely on the pre-packaged formula for
doing good that has been handed down to us by the religious
leaders of the past.
Perceive purity, embrace simplicity, reduce self-interest,
limit desires - by doing these, one becomes more intuitive
and thus more in tune with the Tao.
The Gravity of Power
"Gravity is the foundation of levity. Stillness is
the master of agitation. Thus enlightened people can travel
the whole day without leaving behind their baggage."
"However arresting the views, they can remain calm
and unattached. How can leaders with ten thousand chariots
have a light-hearted position in the world?"
"If they are light-hearted, they lose their foundation,
if they are agitated, they lose their mastery."
It's the responsibility of enlightened leaders to create
a calm centre that will serve as the foundation for their
organisation. Regardless of the stimulating diversions in
their path, they must retain their composure and sense of
They don't let themselves be separated from their "baggage"
(i.e. their gravity) and thus they maintain their position
through serious-mindedness. The concept of "ten thousand
chariots" is one of unimaginable power, on the scale
of nuclear power today.
Lao Tzu believed that leaders with such power have an awesome
responsibility and can be neither light-hearted nor agitated.
A leader must remain calm and be in control of themselves
if people are to have confidence in them.
Uniting the Forces
"Know the male, hold to the female. Become the world's
stream by being the world's stream. The Power will never
leave; this is returning to infancy."
"Know the white, hold to the black. Become the world's
pattern by being the world's pattern. The Power will never
falter. This is returning to limitlessness."
"Know the glory, hold to obscurity. Become the world's
valley by being the world's valley. The Power will be sufficient.
This is returning to Simplicity. "
"When Simplicity is broken up it is made into instruments.
Enlightened people who employ them are made into leaders.
In this way the Great System is united."
Unwavering Power is bestowed on enlightened people who are
able to direct the talents of otherwise unconnected individuals
into a collective endeavour. Just as reservoirs collect
water, leaders become low spots for the exchange of power
and information. They are aware of the instability in aggression
and obviousness. To hold their position, they are receptive,
subtle and modest.
In Physics the four forces in the universe are those engaged
in holding matter together (gravity, strong and weak nuclear
force and electromagnetism). Enlightened leaders emulate
the Tao by imitating those forces by connecting individuals
with the evolving society. In this way they have the Power
to alter reality.
In this passage, Lao Tzu uses the images of Infancy, Limitlessness
and Simplicity to describe the intuitive understanding of
the Great System: the united field of matter and energy
as it existed prior to the beginnings of the known universe.
To know this is to perceive the Tao. (28)
Intuitive leaders have the ability to unite people with
diverse backgrounds into a single enterprise. This creates
a direct connection between people whose only previous connection
was to be part of a single unified field of forces that
we call the Universe, a place in that everything is interconnected.
The universal connection is often hard to perceive though.
The leader who unites people is making that connection clear.
The more people they thus unite, the more like the universal
Tao they become.
The Power in Desirelessness
"The Tao never acts and yet is never inactive. If leaders
can hold onto it, all things will be naturally influenced.
Influenced and yet desiring to act, I would calm them with
Nameless Simplicity. Nameless simplicity is likewise without
desire - and without desire there is harmony."
"The world will then be naturally stabilised."
Lao Tzu believed that the best leaders are those with the
intellectual and emotional strength to guide rather than
rule. Enlightened leaders put all their strength into leading
the way and into not interfering in the lives of those they
lead. Thus their followers are influenced naturally, without
resistance, resentment or reaction.
When people don't follow, it's because the leader is moving
against the grain of human nature and against the direction
of social evolution. Such leaders bring chaos to the world.
Enlightened leaders hold to the Tao when leading and are
always active in their own internal growth. In order to
align themselves to the emerging trends in society and the
movements of Nature (Tao), they practice simplicity in their
lives and work. In this way they avoid the distorted intellectual
and emotional growth that comes with any fixation upon material
possessions or self-aggrandising social systems.
Because the enlightened leaders free themselves from irrelevant
or misleading desires, they receive insights that bring
harmony and stability to everything they touch. (37)
Good leaders guide rather than rule - they perceive purity,
embrace simplicity, reduce self-interest and limit their
desires. Thus they “avoid the distorted intellectual
and emotional growth that comes from fixation upon material
possessions and/or self-aggrandising social systems”.
Oneness in Leadership
"From old, these may have harmony with the One: Heaven
in harmony with the One becomes clear. Earth in harmony
with the One becomes stable. Mind in harmony with the One
becomes inspired. Valleys in harmony with the One become
full. All things in harmony with the One become creative.
Leaders in harmony with the One become incorruptible in
the world. These were attained through Oneness."
"Heaven without clarity would probably crack. Earth
without stability would probably quake. Mind without inspiration
would probably sleep. Valleys without fullness would probably
dry up. All things without creativity would probably die
off. Leaders without incorruptible ways would probably stumble
"Indeed, the high-placed stem from the humble, the
elevated are based on the lowly. This is why leaders call
themselves alone, lonely and unfavoured. Isn't this because
they stem from the humble and common? Therefore attain honour
without being honoured. Do not desire to shine like jade;
wear ornaments as though they were stone."
The state of oneness mentioned here is a state of harmony
between the one and the many. This is a principle Taoist
thought exercise - the ability to sense the interdependence
and rhythmic interactions between all matter and energy
in the universe, whether that matter and energy have coalesced
into a solar system, a family, spawning salmon or decaying
plutonium. If they are existing simultaneously, they are
interdependent. It is in the connections between universal
phenomena that the truth of existence can be known.
On the level of leadership, this means that a leader must
create a sense of identification with those whom they lead,
who in turn must sense this. Enlightened leaders realise
that their position rests on those below them. They preserve
their position and remain connected to those below them
by practising simplicity. They don't aspire to the trappings
of honour and prestige because such things only serve to
block their sense of Oneness with the people.
They are incorruptible because they are in complete identification
with those whom they serve and believe the needs of the
people to be their own. (39)
The best way to lead is to act from a sense of oneness with
those being led. This sense of oneness is cultivated in
a general sense by learning to recognise the complete interdependence
and connectedness of all things in the universe.
The Power in Effortlessness
"Lead the organisation with correctness. Direct the
military with surprise tactics. Take hold of the world with
effortlessness. How is it so? Through this:"
"Too many prohibitions in the world and people become
insufficient. Too many sharp weapons among people and the
nation grows confused. Too much cunning strategy among people
and strange things start to happen. Too many laws and regulations
and too many criminals emerge."
"Thus enlightened people say: look to inaction and
people will be naturally influenced. Look to refined tranquillity
and people will be naturally correct, look to effortlessness
and people will be naturally affluent, look to non-desire
and people will be naturally simple."
In this passage, Lao Tzu suggests that leaders might unite
the world if they could lead without interference and govern
without restrictive social structures. Too many controls
and regulations are a form of aggression against the natural
processes of the refinement in people.
Taoists believe that people's instincts are basically fair
and correct and become aggressive only in reaction to excessive
force from restrictive laws and imposed morality. Leaders
who try to repress people ultimately achieve the opposite.
Such a force is self-defeating and in the process leads
an individual or organisation into chaos.
Enlightened leaders reverse this process. They do not interfere
when they can avoid it. They are a model of intelligent
calm. They undertake projects where they are non-competitive
and subdue in their hearts any desires for status and prestige.
As a result the people they lead are favourably impressed
and motivated and do not engage in cunning strategies.
In this way they are naturally united. (57)
History recalls how fascist regimes are always, in the end,
brought undone by the actions of those who react against
the extreme restrictions imposed upon them.
Cultivating the Centre
"If the administration is subdued, the people are sincere.
If the administration is exacting, the people are deficient."
"Misfortune! Good fortune supports it. Good fortune!
Misfortune hides within it."
"Order can revert to the unusual; good can revert to
the abnormal; and people are indeed bewildered for a long,
"Thus enlightened leaders are square without dividing,
honest without offending, straightforward without straining,
bright without being dazzling."
Severe controls and regulations characterise a detailed
and exacting administration. Such an administration conceives
of an ideal and then attempts to regulate the people into
this ideal. Since human nature naturally resists oppression,
resentment and discontent begin to grow within the organisation.
As the administration pushes, the resistance of the people
grows even stronger.
Enlightened leaders understand the action of polarity in
nature and therefore avoid such extremes. They know that
good fortune and misfortune don't respond to direct control
and that excessive action towards 'good order' will lead
to a counter-reaction.
Instead they use their intelligence to shape the world without
direct confrontation or excessive strategy or control.
Stable, subtle and sincere, they cultivate themselves and
become models for the people they lead. (58)
It is a mistake to over-regulate people, it runs counter
to basic human nature. By nature people are not made to
be over-regulated. The human species and indeed all other
living creatures have evolved in a chaotic environment where
conditions vary from one day to the next and survival depends
on adapting to change. Too many rules and regulations restrict
a person’s ability to adapt to change, therefore people
react against attempts to place them in a straightjacket
and so reduce their ability to react spontaneously.
Some leaders assume that because some regulation is good,
therefore a lot of regulation is better. There is a tendency
in people to take things to the extreme. We see this tendency
in every aspect of people’s lives. One whisky might
be good for a person’s heart, therefore ten must be
really good. Reducing dietary fat intake is good for a person’s
arteries, therefore no dietary fat will let a person live
forever. The tendency towards extremes ignores the basic
Taoist principle of moderation - the middle path.
Holding the Position
"Leading a large organisation is like cooking a small
"If the Tao is present in the world, the cunning are
not mysterious. Not only are the cunning not mysterious,
their mystery does not harm others."
"Not only does their mystery not harm others, the Evolved
also do not harm others. Since together they do no harm,
the Power returns and accumulates."
In order to support the organisation in an uncertain atmosphere,
a leader must emulate the Tao by "cooking a small fish"
appropriately. Just as too much stirring will cause the
delicate fish to fall apart, too much interference during
a difficult period will unbalance the situation and one's
place within it.
When there are no elegant, effortless solutions the best
thing to do is allow the natural forces, the Tao, to evolve
problems and point the way to their resolution.
Therefore, the first concern of evolved leaders is to cultivate
the Tao in organisational affairs. Once the Tao is enlisted,
through sensitive, observant non-interference - many things
will become clear to everyone involved.
Those who would plan cunning strategies for personal gain
become obvious and thus ineffective. Once the organisation
needs no longer to fear internal manipulation, productivity
will prevail. (60)
Leaders who insist on over-regulating the activities of
those they lead have the inevitable effect of destabilising
the organisation. People resent meddling and will react
against it in different ways, seeking to either change their
leaders behaviour or have the leader removed.
The Tao in Leaders
"The Tao is the refuge of all things, the treasure
of the good, the protector of the not good."
"Honour can be bought with fine words; others can be
joined with fine conduct. So, if some are not good, why
"In this way the Emperor is established; the three
officials are installed. And although the large jade disc
is preceded by a team of horses, this is not as good as
sitting, advancing in the Tao."
"Why did those of old treasure the Tao? Did they not
say, 'seek and it is attained, possess faults and they are
released'? Thus it is the treasure of the world."
In organisations, the leader's role is to help all members
to find their place and direct them together into progress
and fulfilment. Even though some people may be insufficient
or unrefined, Lao Tzu asks 'Why waste them?' An enlightened
leader makes certain to provide for the education of everyone
in the organisation. In this way, all members become integrated
with the organisation and the leader's position is established.
To maintain that position, the enlightened leader does not
put emphasis on the material advantages and outwardly grand
appearance of leadership, for these will only serve to separate
the world of the leader from the world of those they lead.
The people's needs cannot be met by such a leader.
Instead, the enlightened leader looks within him or herself
to sense the direction of social evolution (the Tao). In
this way, they guide the people on the appropriate path
and make no mistakes. (62)
The principle outlined in this passage is as fresh today
as it was 3000 years ago. It could have come from one of
the many ‘how to be a better manager’ books
found in any bookstore. It says, don’t place yourself
above your employees, they’ll resent you for it because
they instinctively know that under the skin, the manager
is just like everyone else.
It advocates leadership of the people for the people. The
result is a more harmonious organisation.
The Danger in Cleverness
"Those skilful in the ancient Tao are not obvious to
people. They appear to be simple-minded."
"People are difficult to lead because they are too
clever. Therefore to lead the organisation with cleverness
will bring harm to the organisation. Conversely, to lead
without cleverness brings benefit to the organisation."
"Those who know these two things have investigated
the patterns of the Absolute. To know and investigate the
patterns is called the Subtle Power. The Subtle Power is
profound and pervasive. Together with the natural law of
polarity it leads to the Great Harmony."
Leaders who impose elaborate strategies cause social reactions
that undermine the structure of the organisation because
clever strategies strike a resonant chord in people and
trigger their own cunning responses.
An enlightened leader guides the organisation with simplicity
and directness and in this way the inherent cleverness of
the people is neutralised.
Simple and direct leadership is highly effective when it
is intelligently aligned with the general trends in the
environment and society. Enlightened leaders therefore constantly
examine both the current patterns of society and the constant
laws of Nature. (65)
Enlightened leaders emulate Nature’s patterns when
controlling people’s activities. They manage by simple,
direct acts that don’t cause speculation nor contain
obvious ruses. People are in no doubt as to what is happening.
They do not think, “Well it would seem this is happening,
but maybe it is that not this that is happening.”
By being enlightened, a leader is being an extension of
Nature, an agent of Nature, is working in harmony with Nature
- how can he/she go wrong?
The Power in Staying Low
"The rivers and seas lead the hundred streams because
they are skilful at staying low. Thus they are able to lead
the hundred streams."
"Therefore, to rise above people, one must, in speaking,
stay below them. To remain in front of people, one must
put oneself behind them."
"So it is that enlightened people remain above and
yet the people are not weighted down. They remain in front
and the people are not held back."
"Therefore the world willingly elects them and yet
it does not reject them. Because they do not compete, the
world cannot compete with them."
Enlightened leaders win the trust of the people by their
complete identification with the people. The interests of
the people are naturally promoted because they are the interests
of the leader as well.
When it is clear in their words and actions that the leader
does not feel superior to those whom they lead, the people
see themselves in the leader and never tire of them. (66)
It is a feature of human nature that overbearing leaders
are resisted and reviled - it seems to be a universal human
reaction. The most effective leaders are those who actively
avoid creating a perception of distance between themselves
and those they lead. The “me boss, you underling”
It may be argued by some that conservative hierarchical
societies, such as we see in England, are stable and effective
and therefore good. Everyone knows their place in the pecking
order, from the Queen down to the lowliest street-sweeper.
Each class feels it is their birthright to command those
classes below, and those below accept the authority of their
“betters”. Unfortunately this cosy arrangement
contains the seeds of its own destruction. Sooner or later,
those below throw off the yolk. It might take hundreds of
years, but ultimately it will happen because Nature will
always bring affairs into harmony with itself.
The Power in Compassion
"All the world thinks that my Tao is great; and yet
it seems inconceivable. Only it's greatness makes it seem
inconceivable. If it could be conceived of it would have
become insignificant long ago."
"I have three Treasures that I support and protect:
the first is compassion, the second is moderation, the third
is not to be the first in the world."
"With compassion, one becomes courageous. With moderation,
one becomes expansive. In daring not to be the first in
the world, one becomes the instrument of leadership."
"Now if one is courageous without compassion, or expansive
without moderation or first without holding back, one is
"Compassion always triumphs when attacked; it brings
security when maintained. Nature aids it's leaders, by arming
them with compassion."
The three treasures - compassion, moderation and the courage
not to be first - are the emotional foundations of Lao Tzu's
whole approach. Enduring leaders are those with the most
compassion. They are enduring because compassion is a mysterious
intellectual force that allows reality to act on the mind
in a deeply affecting way, and in return endows the mind
with the power to act on reality. Compassionate leaders
are able to make decisions with foresight and vision - this
is how they endure and triumph.
Lao Tzu opens this passage with a paradox - the idea that
something can be so large, so ever-present and so profound
that it becomes inconceivable. He suggests that anything
that can be fully conceived of and comprehended by the mind
becomes small and manageable. Yet true power does not come
from controlling the small and manageable, but from the
mind-expanding exercise of conceiving of the inconceivable.
Compassion is a transforming force of nature - through a
mysterious process, those who practice compassion transform
themselves and in the process transform those around them
to be more in harmony with nature. Witness the deeds of
Jesus Christ when he healed the sick. These acts of compassion
made such an impression on people that it helped to establish
a religion that has endured for two thousand years.
Non Aggressive Strength
"A skilful leader does not use force. A skilful fighter
does not feel anger. A skilful master does not engage the
opponent, a skilful employer remains low."
"This is called the power in not contending. This is
called the strength to employ others. This is called the
highest emulation of nature."
Lao Tzu believed that the most capable and ultimately the
most powerful leaders are those who practice humility, subtlety
and composure. They are not aggressive and do not feel the
need to prove themselves again and again.
The power in composure and the strength in compassion allows
skilful leaders to organise others and achieve a collective
end without resorting to overt means. Therefore events unfold
naturally, without disruptive counter-reactions. (68)
The Appropriate Perspective
"If the people do not fear authority, then authority
will expand. Do not disrespect their position; do not reject
their lives. Since indeed they are not rejected, they do
"Therefore, enlightened people know themselves, but
do not display themselves. They love themselves but do not
"Hence they discard one and receive the other."
Lao Tzu encourages enlightened leaders to minimise the distance
between their sense of their own position and the position
of those they lead. In this way, by identifying with the
people the leader can better understand the psychological
needs of the people. Thus their decisions are more aligned
with those needs.
Lao Tzu believed that the less people fear or focus upon
the outward embodiment of authority, the more effective
that authority becomes. To cultivate and preserve the appropriate
attitude, leaders should identify closely with those whom
When a leader does not exhibit and enhance their high position,
they will discover self-knowledge. Moreover, by discarding
any sense of self-importance they may have, they will find
self-love and inner-peace. (72)
The Tao in Organisations
The twelve passages in this group looks at the behaviour
of people engaged in group endeavours, as well as the conduct
of organisations involved in worldly endeavours. These passages
look at the Taoist principles that lead to the harmonious
achievement of group objectives.
The twelve passages are as follows:
The Danger in Excess
The Skilful Exchange of Information
Leading the Leader
The Use of Force
Concealing the Advantage
The Undivided Path
The Way of Moderation
The Power in Modesty
Accepting the Blame
The Danger in Excess
"Those who stand on tiptoe cannot stand firm; those
who straddle cannot walk; those who display themselves cannot
illuminate; those who define themselves cannot be distinguished;
those who make claims can have no credit; and those who
boast cannot advance."
"To those who stay with the Tao, these are like excess
food and redundant action - since they are contrary to the
laws of Nature they turn away."
People who try to become visible (stand on tiptoe), who
are hypocritical (straddle), or who boast of their achievements
will be overwhelmed by negative counter-reactions. This
comes about through a natural group psychology that seeks
to balance itself against individuals who seek to manipulate
Enlightened people recognise the danger of self-serving,
self-indulgent behaviour within groups. They regard excess
and redundancy as the signs of an unstable situation. Because
they understand the laws of Nature, they know that the outcome
of any excess is decline. Therefore they quietly remove
themselves. They discard social fixations because they have
discovered the richness of simplicity. (24)
The Skilful Exchange of Information
"A good path has no ruts, a good speech has no flaws,
a good analysis uses no schemes."
"A good lock has no bar or bolt, and yet it cannot
be opened. A good knot does not restrain, and yet it cannot
"Thus it is that enlightened people are always good
at saving others, hence no one is wasted. They are always
good at saving things, hence nothing is wasted. This is
called doubling the light."
"Therefore a good person is the teacher of an inferior
person, and the inferior person is the resource of a good
person. One who does not cherish a teacher or a good resource,
although intelligent, is deluding themselves. This is called
When people use force or cunning to shape events, they are
walking a path that is already rutted, using logic that
is inherently flawed and basing their calculations on schemes
and guesses. Just as the most skilful knots hold things
in place without excessive force, certain ends are best
accomplished without the use of obvious means.
In worldly undertakings, the most effective and far-reaching
systems rely on spontaneity, creativity and an intuitive
understanding of human nature and social needs.
Enlightened people skilfully employ other people and things
and thus spread the Light - the information that helps steer
the course of evolution. In this way, the skilful person
becomes the teacher. Herein lies the symbolic relationship
that reflects the interdependence between all states in
the universe - energy and matter, proton and electron, time
and space. Uninformed people need a model after that to
Teachers derive energy and penetrating insight from acting
as that model. Thus, with the proper values and attitudes
towards each other, they are both transformed and come into
harmony with the Tao. (27)
Leading the Leader
"Those who use the Tao to guide leaders do not use
forceful strategies in the world. Such methods tend to recoil.
Where armies are positioned, thorny brambles are produced.
A great military always brings years of hunger."
"Those who are skilful succeed and then stop. They
dare not hold on with force. They succeed and do not boast,
do not make claims, are not proud, do not acquire in excess
and do not use force."
"Things overgrown will always decline. This is not
the Tao. What is not the Tao will soon end."
Organisations that confuse offence with defence, aggression
with protection invariably deplete their resources and lead
their people into times of hunger. Organisations have great
momentum and do not know how to stop their forward motion
- their inertia keeps them moving in the current direction
until another force acts to change it's course.
Therefore those whose job it is to advise the leaders of
organisations are responsible for holding the organisation
back from the excesses that lead to collapse.. Those who
devise cunning or forceful strategies to use against other
organisations are not fit to advise the leaders, because
the nature of the work - as necessary as it might be - limits
their ability to apprehend the Tao and so the evolution
Enlightened people know it is possible to succeed without
planting the seeds of self-destruction. Therefore they are
not aggressive and they are not acquisitive. Only enlightened
people with these characteristics are fit to guide the leader
of an organisation. (30)
The Use of Force
"The finest weapons can be the instrument of misfortune,
and so contrary to natural law. Those who possess the Tao
turn away from their use. Enlightened people occupy and
honour the left (i.e. the left hand is less likely to act)
whereas those who use weapons honour the right (the right
hand is usually the one to act). In other words, enlightened
people do not resort to force unless it is unavoidable and
practice non-interference in order to avoid unfortunate
"Weapons are instruments of misfortune that are used
by the unevolved. When their use is unavoidable, the enlightened
act with calm restraint."
"Even when victorious, let there be no joy, for such
joy leads to contentment with slaughter. Those who are content
with slaughter cannot find contentment in the world."
The use of force to alter worldly events is regarded here
as a sometimes necessary evil. The "finest weapon"
may be a powerful army or may be as subtle as a sharp intellect
or a clever strategy - yet when it is used to exert force
over another, it is "contrary to natural law"
(the Tao) and will result in unfortunate counteractions.
When force is unavoidable, enlightened people act with restraint.
Furthermore, they know that the use of force enhances personal
power only to the extent of being regrettable. When victorious,
they do not allow themselves to feel joy; instead they express
regret. Their attitude strongly affects their organisation
and so internal conflicts are regrettable as well.
Therefore a regretful attitude among a leader during times
of external pressure can have a calming effect on the internal
affairs of the organisation.(31)
Concealing the Advantage
"In order to deplete it, it must be thoroughly extended.
In order to weaken it, it must be thoroughly strengthened.
In order to reject it, it must be thoroughly promoted. In
order to take away from it, it must be thoroughly endowed."
This is called a subtle insight. The yielding can triumph
over the inflexible; the weak can triumph over the strong.
Fish should not be taken from deep waters, nor should organisations
make obvious their advantages.
Organisations with the greatest strategic advantage are
those with the greatest potential for loss. When an organisation
becomes overextended, when it complacently accepts praise
and promotion, gifts and abundant profits, when it believes
itself to be growing stronger - it is then that it is at
it's most vulnerable. It has become unstable in the natural
cycle of polarity and is on it's way to it's own opposite.
Because "fish" taken from the watery depths cannot
survive, organisations should keep their advantages out
of sight and action. Advantages that are restrained are
more effective and long-lasting than those that are displayed
because concealed advantages do not cause resistance or
Inherent in this passage are instructions to smaller organisations
that would overcome a larger one. The principle behind Subtle
Insight is one that is frequently repeated in the Tao Te
Ching - the weak can overcome the strong by yielding and
contributing to the excessiveness of the strong. Excessiveness
germinates the seed that forces things to grow into their
"When the world possesses the Tao, even fast horses
are used for their dung. When the world is without the Tao,
war-horses are raised in the suburbs."
"There is no greater misfortune than not knowing how
much is enough, no greater fault than desiring to acquire."
"Therefore, knowing that enough is enough means that
will always be enough."
Lao Tzu believed that the greatest character flaw, particularly
in leaders since they influence the attitudes of the people
they lead, is acquisitiveness. Leaders who are acquisitive
are looking for the meaning of life outside of themselves.
Therefore their inner life develops no purpose or substance.
When an organisation is led according to the Tao, when it
does not act in an acquisitive way towards other organisations,
then even it's greatest advantages are used for cultivating
the internal quality of the organisation (fast horses being
used for their dung).
Conversely, when an organisation is not led according to
the Tao - that is, when it acts in an acquisitive way towards
other organisations, then it's advantages are used aggressively
outside of the organisation and the people must pay for
this (war-horses are raised in the suburbs).
Organisations in accord with the Tao know how much is enough.
For this reason, they attain freedom, power and independence.
The Undivided Path
"Using only a little knowledge, I would travel the
Great Way and fear only of letting go. The Great Way is
very even, yet people favour the by-ways."
"When an organisation is divided, fields are overgrown,
stores are empty, sharp swords are worn, food and drink
are excessive, wealth and treasure are hoarded."
"This is called stealing and exaggeration and certainly
not the way."
Following the Great Way - the Tao - requires no special
knowledge or learning; it is merely listening to the inner
voice, taking note of the current social and environmental
patterns and holding to the line of least resistance.
The path of least resistance is level and easy but for many
the byways are tempting. Byways in the social sense are
excessive ambitions and desires that separate people from
their inner nature and from each other.
When people indulge in extremes it serves only to block
their own personal development. When organisations go to
extremes, it not only endangers itself but the people involved
in it. A divided organisation is one that acts ambitiously
or aggressively towards it's own people or towards other
organisations. Such organisations economise when they should
spend and vice versa. That is, they spend on appearance
and weapons and economise on nurturing and support.
Unbalanced organisations act against the laws of nature
and so do not last. (53)
The Way of Moderation
"In leading people and serving Nature, there is nothing
better than moderation. Since, indeed, moderation means
yielding early, yielding early means accumulating power."
"When Power is accumulated, nothing is impossible.
When nothing is impossible, one knows no limits. One who
knows no limits can possess the organisation."
"An organisation that possesses the Tao can endure
and advance. This means deep roots and firm foundations:
durability and longevity through observation of the Tao."
The responsibility of enlightened leaders is to guide their
people effectively while remaining centred and self-aware
- this is what is meant by "serving Nature".
To achieve moderation, leaders scrupulously avoid extremes
and adopt non-confrontative postures. With moderation comes
endurance, personal power and unlimited possibilities.
Centred leaders tend to experience an ever-expanding influence.
When enlightened leaders, in turn, structure their organisation
in accord with the moderate, centred path of the Tao, it
will not be eroded by the turbulence of the extremes and
will therefore enjoy a long and prosperous existence. (59)
The Power in Modesty
"A large organisation should flow downwards to intersect
with the world. It is the female of the world. The female
always overcomes the male by stillness; through stillness
she makes herself low."
"Thus if a large organisation is lower (more humble)
than a smaller organisation, it can receive the small organisation.
If a small organisation stays lower than a larger one, it
can receive the large organisation."
"Therefore one receives by becoming low; another receives
by being low."
"Yet what a large organisation desires is to unite
and support others. What a small organisation desires is
to join and serve others. Therefore, for both to gain the
position they desire, the larger should place itself low."
A non-aggressive, non-interfering stance is the natural
diplomatic position for a large organisation to take towards
a smaller, weaker one. This yielding position gives the
impression of submission but has the advantage of generosity.
When this position is held, the smaller organisation will
not resent the power and position of the larger. The larger
organisation, in turn, will engender the trust and cooperation
of the smaller by not aggressively promoting it's own interests.
Such a position on the part of the larger organisation satisfies
the psychological needs of both, since large organisations
benefit by uniting and supporting others, and smaller organisations
benefit by addressing a wider audience.
The power in serving others occurs in all possible relationships
- from the interpersonal to the international. The Chinese
say that "to rule is to serve", a Taoist would
say "to serve is to rule". (61)
"Strategists have a saying: I dare not act as a host,
yet I act as a guest. I dare not advance an inch, yet I
retreat a foot."
"This is called travelling without moving, rising up
without arms, projecting without resistance, capturing without
"No misfortune is greater than underestimating resistance;
underestimating resistance will destroy my treasures. Thus
when mutually opposing strategies escalate, the one who
feels sorrow will triumph."
Lao Tzu believed that the clash of ideologies was inevitable
in social evolution. He observed however that some ideologies
make inroads into the hearts and minds of people while others
create disastrous counter-reactions. He realised that resistance
to ideas can be overcome - but only when indirect methods
are used will there be a lasting effect.
He called this capturing without strategies - this is why
his strategist would rather retreat a foot than advance
an inch.. Conversely, when aggression is used to impose
an idea on others, the effect is also a direct one: strategy
is met with strategy, weapon is matched against weapon,
tensions escalate and escalate again.
Lao Tzu lamented this familiar pattern, saying 'underestimating
resistance will destroy my treasures' (the three treasures
- compassion, moderation and the courage not to be first).
How can escalation be neutralised? Lao Tzu thought that
the side that is socially evolved enough to feel sorrow
and experience grief at the situation would be the side
whose ideology would ultimately triumph. (69)
Accepting the Blame
"Nothing in the world is as yielding and receptive
as water yet in attacking the firm and inflexible nothing
triumphs so well. Because of what it is not, this becomes
"The receptive triumphs over the inflexible, the yielding
triumphs over the rigid. None in the world do not know this,
none have the ability to practice it."
"Therefore, evolved people say: one who accepts the
disgrace of the organisation can be called the leader of
the grain shrine (traditional shrines dedicated to crop
fertility), one who accepts the misfortunes of the organisation
can be called the leader of the world."
"Right words appear to reverse themselves."
This passage opens with the familiar Taoist image of water
triumphing over the hard and inflexible. Because it is yielding
and receptive, because it has no edge, no shape and no limits
(what is not), it can absorb and erode firmness and structure.
In accepting blame, enlightened leaders willingly take on
the soft, receptive qualities of water that lead to ultimate
triumph. They know that accepting responsibility for all
problems within the organisation will stabilise their position
and extend their influence. It is this paradox, perhaps,
that prompted Lao Tzu to note that "Right words appear
to reverse themselves".
Two forms of blame are mentioned in this passage. One is
blame for disgrace - those mistakes made within the organisation.
Leaders who accept this responsibility are fit to guide
the organisation. The other blame is for misfortunes that
befall the organisation from outside. Leaders who accept
this responsibility believe that they have the capacity
to foresee and avert such problems. These leaders are fit
to guide the world. (78)
"In a small organisation with few people, let there
be ten or a hundred times more tools than they can use.
Let the people value their lives and yet not move far away.
Even though there are boats and carriages, there is no occasion
to use them. Even though there are armour and weapons, there
is no occasion to brandish them."
"Let the people again knot cords and use them: their
food will be pleasing, their clothes will be fine, their
homes will be secure, their customs will be joyful."
"Nearby organisations may watch each other, their crowing
and barking may be heard. Yet the people may grow old and
die without coming or going between them."
In this passage, Lao Tzu describes his view of the ideal
independent social organisation - whether families, businesses,
states or nations. The ideal organisation creates an atmosphere
that complements and enhances the development of every member,
by providing, within the organisation, the tools of personal
growth: health, education and recreation.
Because people value their lives, they must be given what
they need to fulfil their potential and find themselves.
When people are encouraged to observe and monitor their
own progress (Lao Tzu calls this "knotting cords")
they develop a strong sense of personal power and independence.
They find joy and completion in the basics of life - food,
clothing shelter and culture. When they are independent
and satisfied, they will not stray from their work, their
relationships or from their loyalties.
The idea of knotting cords comes from an ancient Chinese
system of mathematics and memory storage. The knotted ropes
can be thought of as a crude circuit board with the knots
acting as switches. The abacus derived from this system.
The Tao in Non-interference
The eleven passages in this group discuss the principle
of tactical non-interference (or non action). They were
selected for this group by virtue of each being concerned
with some aspect of the "hands off" technique
for achieving lasting influence in worldly affairs.
The eleven passages are as follows:
The Power of Selflessness
The Way of Non-interference
The Limits of Specialisation
Cultivating Inner Knowledge
The Art of Non-action
The Power in not Contending
The Path of Least Resistance
The Power at the Beginning
The Power of Selflessness
"Heaven is eternal, the Earth everlasting. They can
be eternal and everlasting because they do not exist for
themselves. For that reason they can exist eternally."
"Therefore, enlightened people put themselves last,
and yet they are first. Put themselves outside and yet they
"Is it not that they are without self-interest that
their interests succeed?"
The path followed by Taoists seems contrary to common sense
and ordinary expectation. Enlightened people know that the
cyclic action of the Tao will ultimately bring into the
foreground that that is currently in the background.
This natural change occurs without force or resistance and
therefore endures. Thus, careful positioning is the strategy
of enlightened people. By putting themselves last and outside,
they are employing subtlety and tactical inertness to compel
the social environment to counterbalance and bring them
Although it is true that in acting without self-interest
one's interests are fulfilled, people who put their interests
last discover that their desires are transformed. As their
awareness expands they develop priorities that are aligned
intelligently with both the current situation and with larger
influences in the world.
For this reason, as their aims are fulfilled, their environment
The Way of Non-interference
"Those who would take hold of the world and act on
it never, I notice, succeed (in the long term). The world
is a mysterious instrument, not made to be handled. Those
who act on it, spoil it. Those who seize it, lose it."
"So, in Natural Law some lead, some follow; some agitate,
some remain silent; some are firm, some are weak; some carry
on, some lose heart."
"Thus it is enlightened people avoid extremes, avoid
extravagance, avoid stress."
All systems have hidden in them a natural geometry. Crystals
form and cells replicate within a strict mathematical organisation,
a template. Thus to interfere with the natural state of
people and organisations is a futile and often dangerous
In society, enlightened people observe and understand this
natural state and then position themselves appropriately.
They are always in harmony with the deeper trends in the
evolution of society. They exert the force of their convictions
via a state of focused inner awareness, while externally
they practice strategic non-interference.
Those who follow the Tao are reluctant to push anything
to the extreme, even to extremes of complacency, and they
know that this can lead to undesirable counteractions.
Instead they strive to maintain their intellectual balance
by experiencing the rhythms of natural events with emotional
The Limits of Specialisation
"The Tao of the Absolute has no name. Although infinitesimal
in it's Simplicity, the world cannot master it."
"If leaders would hold onto it, all things would naturally
follow. Heaven and Earth would unite to rain sweet dew (indicative
of a kingdom at peace) and people would naturally co-operate
"Names emerge when institutions begin. When names emerge,
know likewise to stop. To know when to stop is to be free
"The presence of the Tao in the world is like the valley
stream joining rivers and seas."
Lao Tzu advises enlightened leaders to move towards simplicity
and away from complexity - towards universality rather than
differentiation. As always he advises leaders to know when
to stop and to practice non-interference.
Leaders who insist on exacting systems and roles in their
organisations cannot create a natural, effortless atmosphere
for the completion of projects, because the structure they
conceive of is suited for machines not humans.
When people are forced into roles and every aspect of their
work defined, their possibilities become limited, they no
longer create and they do not evolve.
When leaders systematise every detail in their organisation,
they close it off from all possibility of evolution. Just
as life-forms that are highly specialised move in the direction
of extinction, this path leads to the extinction of the
On the other hand, with open-ended management, the people
have nothing to resist or resent. They become spontaneously
co-operative because their attention shifts to the end rather
than the means. (32)
"The most yielding parts of the world overtake the
most rigid parts of the world. The insubstantial can penetrate
"Therefore I know that without action there is advantage."
"This philosophy without words, this advantage without
action - it is rare in the world to attain them."
Lao Tzu believed that most difficulties in life are born
out of reactions to larger effects, and that problems tend
to resolve themselves when they are not met with aggression
and invited to remain.
Just as large ships are steered with small rudders, Lao
Tzu felt that when action was necessary, the most subtle
effort would yield the most effective result - a result
that would not bring a whole new set of problems.
In the most personal sense, non-interference is a form of
freedom - one that can bring power to individuals who have
the courage to practice it. (43)
Cultivating Inner Knowledge
"Without going out of doors, know the world. Without
looking out the window, see the Tao in Nature. One may travel
very far and know very little."
"Therefore, enlightened people know without going about,
recognise without looking. Achieve without acting."
The most valuable knowledge one can acquire comes through
the cultivation of intuition and the practice of non-interference.
This knowledge addresses a deeper level of awareness than
that gained through action, for knowledge that comes through
action is obscured by situation specific reactions.
Taoists use strategic non-interference to cultivate exceptional
awareness. In this way, enlightened people can align themselves
so that their inner world reflects the world around them.
They are using tactical inertness to ensure that their current
instincts and impressions are in harmony with the larger
forces at work in the world. With this knowledge they can
position themselves appropriately and effectively in order
to achieve their aims. (47)
The Art of Non-action
"To pursue the academic, add to it daily. To pursue
the Tao, subtract from it daily. Subtract and subtract again,
to arrive at the art of non-action. Through non-action,
nothing is left undone."
"The world is always held without effort. The moment
there is effort, the world is beyond holding."
This passage is a thought experiment that explores the practice
of calculated non-action as the means of gaining powerful
insights into worldly affairs. Taoists strive to remove
fixed ideas from their minds so as to open the way for impressions
based on the transformation and evolution of their environment.
Static information limits the mind's ability to "read"
impressions that are coming to it in the language of possibility
Lao Tzu believed that using action or effort to elicit information
would yield a contaminated form of reality - one based on
the world's reactions to one's own actions.
The Taoist ideal is to gain pure information by observing
the world that is not reacting to one's interference.
Enlightened people use pure information to refine their
intuitive and instinctive knowledge. (48)
The Power in not Contending
"To possess power that runs deep is to be like a newborn
child. Poisonous insects do not sting it, fierce beasts
do not seize it, birds of prey do not strike it."
"It's bones are yielding, it's muscles are relaxed,
it's grip is strong. It does not yet know the union of male
and female, yet its virility is active. Its life force is
at it's greatest."
"It can scream all day, yet it does not become hoarse.
It's harmony is at it's greatest."
"To know Harmony is called the Absolute. To know the
Absolute is called Insight. To enhance life is called propitious.
To be conscious of influence is called strength."
"Things overgrown must decline. This is not the Tao.
What is not
the Tao will soon die."
The infant is a frequent metaphor in the Tao Te Ching. To
be infant-like is to be in touch with one's original nature
and the current reality in the environment. Infants act
and react appropriately and spontaneously and do not attack
or contend; thus they are protected.
Enlightened people therefore use spontaneity and non-contention
as a spiritual martial art to transcend social dangers.
When they pushed they yield, and the pushers are thrown
off their balance by their own inappropriate efforts.
Enlightened people focus solely on maintaining their stability
and balance - a position that yields power.
The physical laws of the universe reflect the fact that
unbalanced energies are not stable and their time as such
quickly passes. (55)
The Path of Least Resistance
"Act without action; work without effort. Taste without
savouring. Magnify the small; increase the few, repay ill-will
"Plan the difficult when it is easy. Handle the big
where it is small. The worlds hardest work begins when it
is easy. The worlds largest effort begins where it is small.
Enlightened people, finally, take no great action, and in
that way, great is achieved."
"Those who commit easily inspire little trust. How
easy to inspire hardness! Therefore, enlightened people
view all as difficult. Finally they have no difficulty!"
When enlightened people find that they must influence an
ongoing process they will direct their energy towards it's
weakest and most receptive area. Once their influence is
absorbed, they know that the weakness will move to another
location. They follow. Never do they find themselves in
direct confrontation with a formidable problem.
Just as a river finds it's way through a valley of boulders,
enlightened people work their way around areas of resistance,
knowing that they will ultimately wear them down.
Thus an entire process can be influenced and controlled
with small, non-confrontational actions. Because enlightened
people are serious-minded, they inspire trust and break
down resistance. Because they are subtle, their actions
are appropriately restrained and do not interfere with the
natural cycle of events. In this way they avoid counter-reactions
and achieve their aims. (63)
The Power at the Beginning
"What is at rest is easy to hold. What is not yet begun
is easy to plan. What is thin is easy to melt. What is minute
is easy to disperse. Deal with many things before they emerge.
Put them in order before there is disorder."
"A tree of many arm-spans grows from a single sprout.
A tower of nine stories is raised from a pile of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
Those who act on things spoil them. Those who seize things
lose them. Therefore, enlightened people do nothing, hence
they spoil nothing. They seize nothing therefore they lose
People often spoil their work at it's point of completion.
With care at the end as well as the beginning, no work will
ever be spoiled."
"Thus enlightened people desire to be desireless and
do not treasure goods that are hard to get. They learn without
learning by returning to the place where the collective
mind passes. In this way they assist all things naturally
without venturing to act."
This passage explores the possibilities for the control
that a person might gain in worldly events through the use
of strategic non-interference. Every action produces an
equal and opposite reaction. Strong force applied in any
direction has the effect of engendering an equal force back
towards the original force.
Enlightened people guide events by developing a sense of
where and how events originate. Thus they can act on the
event when it is in its most unentrenched and least reactive
state. At the same time they can position themselves to
guide the situation through to completion.
The instinct that signals the origin of events can be cultivated
by minimising one's desires and avoiding the crippling effects
of dogmatic thinking. (64)
"When people do not fear death, how can they be threatened
with death? Suppose people fear death and still do not conform.
Who would then dare to seize them and put them to death?"
"There is always the master executioner who kills.
To substitute for the master executioner in killing is like
substituting for the master carpenter who carves. Whoever
thus substitutes rarely escapes injury to his hands."
Lao Tzu believed that people are inherently good-hearted,
and to maintain this state they need personal freedom, intellectual
independence, and most importantly, a life that is free
from interference from authority. When authority becomes
oppressive, people will no longer fear death as they reach
Oppressive leaders inevitably hurt themselves in the end.
Self Destructive Leadership
"People are hungry because those above consume too
much in taxes. So it is that people are hungry."
"People are difficult to lead because those above interfere
with them. So it is that people are difficult to lead."
"People make light of death because those above crave
survival. So it is that people make light of death."
Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching during a period of great
political instability. Observing the rulers of the various
states and the lives of their subjects, he concluded that
when leaders are insecure in their position they develop
a deep fear of losing their position that they then identify
with the interests of the organisation.
As a result they become very defensive, taking desperate
measures to protect the organisation. They impose oppressive
regulations to restrict the livelihood of the people.
The people, paying for their leaders fear, do not get enough
to eat. They become inured to the killing of human beings
and develop a growing contempt for their leader. Such an
organisation cannot endure for long. (75)