Alice Lin

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Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 61


The big country is like the downstream of the river
It is the converging point of the world
The female of the universe.

The female always overcomes the male with quietude
Lying low in stillness.

Thus if the big country is humble to the small country
Then it can conquer the small country
If the small country is humble to the big country
Then it can be accepted by the big country
Thus one uses the lower position to take
The other uses the lower position to be accepted

The big country wants to gather and protect people
The small country wants to be sheltered
So that both obtain what they wish
The big country should place itself low

The big country should be like the downstream of the river so that whole world will meet here. She is in the position of the females. Softness and quietness of female overcome the strength of the males. Therefore big country shows the humbleness and respects to the small country and it will win over the submission of the small country. Whereas the small country humbles and respects the big country, and it will gain the trust from the big country in return.

A big country does this is for the sake of receiving all and shelter them. A small country does so is for mutual respect and non-aggression. Therefore, reaching the mutual respect through humbleness, both big or small countries achieve the best strategy. The key is that a big country should be humble and respect the small country in good faith.

Looking Up


I’ve been feeling stressed and like nothing is going my way because my job at Home Health Marketing was getting nowhere. I used to have at least 12 patients a month, and now I didn’t even have a quarter of those numbers. Some months, I had no patients at all. I was trying to look for another job, and my friend suggested auditioning as an extra instead of for parts. As an actor, we can go months with no auditions, so I tried to go online to find jobs as an extra, but there was nothing either. I feel like God was testing my patience and my endurance.

No matter where I looked, I felt that I was in a box with nowhere to go. No matter how hard I pushed against the walls or try to break them, they were solid, and I couldn’t move them. I only hurt my hands trying to do so. In the end, I just sat down with tears on my face. I’ve never felt so hopeless or helpless. I wanted to shout, but I didn’t even have the voice for it. I wanted to cry, and I still couldn’t speak, but tears started pouring. I just wanted a job. I didn’t ask for much, so why was it so hard?

These thoughts consumed my energy, like acid dissolving at whatever I was hanging onto. Eventually, I decided to give up. I put my head down for a while. All of a sudden, I saw a light on the ground. I looked up, and sure enough, above me, there was no ceiling. The box was open all along. It looked like someone was coming down with a rope to get me out of there. I felt like I was lifted out of it. With that light, I gained strength.

I decided that I would visit a doctor as part of my job. When I went in, the receptionist told me that she had sent me a patient a few days ago. I didn’t know that because my office hadn’t told me. Suddenly I was filled with energy, and I had a smile on my way out of the doctor’s office. While I was driving, I got a phone call from my acting agent. Her voice was full of excitement. She said that I got a callback. I thought, “That was a miracle, how could I get a callback so fast when I had only auditioned an hour ago?” She said that this was even better – this was for a movie I had submitted a tape for. I was more than excited; I was exuberant. It was so difficult to get callbacks for movie productions because they would try to get the best people from all over the country. I stopped my car and opened my sunroof, looking up at the blue sky. I told myself, “Get out of the box. Stay out of the box.”

Look up, and the box will not constrain you.

As long as I’m outside of it, the walls of the box can’t cave in on me. Yes, I can look up, and I will be lifted there. I will gain my freedom and my hope. I will achieve anything.

As I finished writing this article, all of a sudden I was reminded of a quote from the author of the novel The Moon and Sixpence, explaining the title of his book: “If you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.”

Through the title of the book, the author, W. Somerset Maugham, transforms the words “dream” and “reality” into the image of the moon. Yes, indeed, if we do not look up, we will miss the moon – our dream which may one day be realized.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 44



Fame or one’s own self, which does one love more?
One’s own self or material goods, which has more worth?
Loss (of self) or possession (of goods), which is the greater evil?

Therefore: he who loves most spends most,
He who hoards much loses much.
The contented man meets no disgrace;
Who knows when to stop, runs into no danger –
He can long endure.
( Translation by Lin Yutang )

The image is from 简书.

This chapter emphasizes the importance of self. Lao Tzu began by asking:

Self and fame, which one is closer to you?
Self and the goods, which is more important to you?
If you gain fame and good but cause harm to yourself, which one makes you lose more?
He added: If you love fame too much, you need to spend a great deal and if you try to store too much, you will end up suffering a severe loss.

So Lao Tzu said: If people can be content enough, they will not be subject to humiliation. If they know when they should stop, they will not be in danger.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 43


The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.
(From a translation by S. Mitchell)

Teaching without words and work without doing
Are understood by very few.
(Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English)

Lao Tzu told us why he knows the benefits of “inaction” because he watched “nothing go into the gaps of the things.”

Lao Tzu said: the softest thing in the world can destroy the hardest thing. The things that have no fixed shape or fixed form (such as wind and water), can enter the gaps of all things.

And “nothing” is instead a soft thing without a fixed shape and fixed form, which can enter hard things and things without gaps.

Therefore, inaction is not for the sake of purpose but with no purpose. It is what the Buddhists say: “without the heart’s desire.”

On the contrary, a lot of people do things with purpose and want compensation. There are seldom people who can apply inaction and ask for nothing in return.

Lao Tzu also realized that only a few would be able to teach without words or work without actions, which he reminds us of again and again in his book.

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 38




The following text is translated by Stefan Stenudd.

The highest virtue is not virtuous(Te). Therefore it has virtue(Te).
The lowest virtue holds on to virtue(Te). Therefore it has no virtue(Te).

The highest virtue(Te) does nothing. Yet, nothing needs to be done.
The lowest virtue(Te) does everything. Yet, much remains to be done.

The highest benevolence acts without purpose.
The highest righteousness acts with purpose.
The highest ritual acts, but since no one cares,
It raises its arms and uses force.

Therefore, when the Way(Tao) is lost there is virtue(Te).
When virtue(Te) is lost there is benevolence.
When benevolence is lost there is righteousness.
When righteousness is lost there are rituals.
Rituals are the end of fidelity and honesty,
And the beginning of confusion.

Knowing the future is the flower of the Way(Tao),
And the beginning of folly.
The truly great ones rely on substance,
And not on surface,
Hold on to the fruit,
And not to the flower.
They reject the latter and receive the former.

The image is fromHospital Marketing Journal – Typepad

This chapter is rather long, and I would like to summarize the whole content as follow so we can understand better:

  1. Causes                                                    Effect

The highest virtue is not virtuous.           So it has virtue.

Those who possess the higher form of virtue are not intentionally virtuous. Their actions are natural and unforced. This is why we say they have true virtue.

Those who possess the higher form of virtue do not act with contrivance. Their actions are without ulterior movies. They act out of virtue because it is natural, not because they want to “look good” doing it.

The lowest virtue holds on to virtue.       So it has no virtue.

There are also those who possess a lower kind of virtue. They never lose sight of virtue because they have to constantly remind themselves to be virtuous. This is why we say they have no true virtue.
Those with the lower form of virtue are the opposite. When they act in ways that seem virtuous, they do so for a specific personal agenda – perhaps improving their image, assuaging guilty feelings, etc.

Lao-tzu’s definition of virtue, benevolence, righteousness, rituals, and their order, we list as follows:

The highest is the virtue: is no action, and no purpose of the act.

Next is benevolence: is with action, there is no purpose of the act.

Next is righteousness: is with action, and the purposeful act as well.

Next is the ritual acts: is with action, there is no response, so, lead to the response of confusion and disorder.

If people lose their virtues, then the next best thing would be benevolence. If people can still hold on to the mindset of love, compassion, and kindness, then they can at least treat one another in a way that is gentle and humane.

What if people lose their benevolence too? Then they will have no choice but to resort to righteousness. Their actions can no longer be guided by love, compassion and kindness. Instead, they will act, choose and decide based on correctness or a sense of justice. Everything becomes more muddled because right and wrong can often be so subjective.

Finally, what if people can no longer rely on righteousness? Then rituals is all that’s left. Following rituals, customs and propriety may or may not be right, benevolent, or virtuous… but at least there is something to follow.

This sort of rituals is artificial and disingenuous. Those who practice it are little more than thin shells without substance, pretending to be loyal and sincere while possessing neither quality. Such people are the source of chaos, discord and strife.

Similarly, people who possess knowledge without righteousness, benevolence or virtue are also thin shells lacking substance. Like flowers, they give a pleasing appearance but possess none of the satisfying goodness of fruits. That’s what we mean when we call them the flowers of the Tao. Such people may project a knowledgeable appearance, but are in fact ignorant in basic, fundamental ways.

To summarize, the truly great person would be the antithesis of the above. That is, they focus on substance instead of the thin veneer of superficiality. Their emphasis is on the real inner self, and not on the facade of external appearance. They discard the fakery of etiquette and knowledge, and reach for benevolence, justice, virtues… and finally the Tao.


Note:Tao Te Ching is comprised of two parts; the first one is from chapter one to thirty-seven. From chapter thirty-eight on, it discusses Te. Tao is the “body,” while “Te” is a phenomenon and an application. Only when we apply or use Tao, do we then gain the results. It is like two sides of a coin, and without either side then there is no existence of the Similarly.

In the past, people with insight thought they had mastered the beauty of “Tao.” However, without practicing Tao, it was the beginning of “ignorance.” To gain Tao, we should rely on the substance and get rid of superficial showiness.



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