Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
When people no longer fear force
They bring about greater force
Do not limit their place
Do not reject their livelihood
Because the ruler does not reject them
Therefore they do not reject the ruler
Therefore the sages:
Know themselves but do not glorify themselves
Respect themselves but do not praise themselves
Thus they discard that and take this
(Translation by Derick Lin)
Kings and princes in general, after having power, usually show conspiracy or high pressure. People are often treated with severe punishments and harsh laws. If the people are forced to fear no authority by that policy of coercion, they will rise up and resist, and they will take risks and fight with the regime. This is how revolutions are made. The coups in history and the change of the dynasty are like this.
Thus the wise ruler would not attempt not to let the people live in peace. Nor would the wise ruler deny the people their means of livelihood. If the ruler does not oppress the people in these ways, the people also will not forsake the leadership.
Therefore, a sage is not only self-aware but also self-respect. A sage is neither self-praise nor self-glory. Consequently, we must abandon the latter (self-praise, self-glory) and keep the former (self-awareness, self-respect).
To know that you do not know is highest
To not know but think you know is flawed
Only when one recognizes the fault as a fault
Can one be without fault
The sages are without fault
Because they recognize the fault as a fault
That is why they are without fault
(Translation by Derick Lin)
Why the sage is the sage is that they know the things they don’t know and recognize how they’re flawed.
What makes the sages without fault is that they recognize the fault.
So the recognition is the key to being a sage. Being humble like sage makes it easy for anyone to find fault with oneself. Once we recognize our fault and take the step to correct it then we are no longer be bound by it and free from it.
The Chinese character bing (病) occurs eight times in this chapter. Many translators translate it as “disease” or “illness.” It does not fit in the context here. It makes this chapter seem strange. I believe bing ( 病) instead derives from mao bing (毛病) which means a fault, flaw, problem, etc. I included Derick Lin’s translation here because he uses flaw or fault instead of disease or illness. I think that it is perfect for the context and makes Lao Tzu’s idea crystal clear to the readers.
My teachings are very easy to understand
and very easy to practice,
But no one can understand them and
no one can practice them.
In my words there is a principle.
In the affairs of men there is a system.
Because they know not these,
They also know me not.
Since there are few that know me,
Therefore I am distinguished.
Therefore the Sage wears a coarse cloth on top
And carries jade within his bosom.
(Translation by Yu Tang Lin)
In previous chapters, Lao Tzu talked about his political ideal and political doctrine, such as static, soft, frugal, merciful, inaction, indisputable, and so on, all of which are in line with nature and are based on nature. In social life, it should be easy to be understood and easily implemented by people.
However, people are stuck in fame and fortune, eager to be impetuous and violate the principle of inaction. Lao Tzu tried to explore people’s thoughts and behaviors and make fundamental understandings and annotations on everything. He narrated profound truths in plain language just as he is dressed in bold clothes and embraced with jade. However, it can not be understood or even practiced by people, so he exclaimed: “They who know me are few.”
Therefore, our understanding is that Lao Tzu was abandoned by his time, and his political ideas cannot be carried out. But he was recognized by the people of later generations, his ideology, his political opinions, some of whom were accepted and implemented by the rulers, and some of them were pushed to the highest place, and they were deified as the classic of Taoism.
In using the military, there is a saying:
I dare not be the
I dare not advance an
This is called marching in formation without formation
Raising arms without arms
Grappling enemies without enemies
Holding weapons without weapons
There is no greater disaster than to underestimate the enemy
Underestimating the enemy almost made me lose my treasures
So when evenly matched armies meet
The side that is compassionate shall win
(Translation by Derick Lin)
This chapter talks about the principle of strategy and tactics in the sense of using troops exclusively. The central idea is to clarify what the previous chapter was about. Lao Tzu demanded that people should not be brave, infuriated easily, avoid confrontation with people, give full play to their talents, be good at using the power of others and not fight for contention. He thought this is in line with the will of heaven, is the ancient principle.
I practice Taijiquan for several years. I always amaze its combat philosophy-yielding, retreating, deflecting and pushing back. The practitioner may appear to be yielding and withdrawing, and yet is devastatingly effective in combat. The master of Taijiquan indeed illustrates the teaching of Lao Tzu the best.
How Lao Tzu wishes the readers to apply his concepts to their daily life, because acting from compassion and humbleness is the secret to the winning.
You may find some translation use “The grieving one will be victorious.” for the last sentence of the text. Yes, the person with virtue who has the grieving heart for the loss on any side will surely bring down the help from heaven; thus he gains nothing but wins.
The great generals are not warlike
The great warriors do not get angry
Those who are good at defeating enemies do not engage them
Those who are good at managing people lower themselves
It is called the virtue of non-contention
It is called the power of managing people
It is called being harmonious with heaven
The ultimate principle of the ancients
This is in line with the principle of Heaven, which has not changed since ancient times.
(Translated by Derek Lin, 1994 )
He who is good at leading soldiers, do not use force;
He who is good at war is not impulsive;
He who is good at defeating the enemy does not fight directly with the enemy.
He who is good at employing people are humble.
The above are the indisputable moral character of “Te,” which can manage the people. It is in line with the principle of Heaven, which has not changed since ancient times.