The way of integrity, 81 chapters of priceless wisdom on navigating life.
To fully understand the main takeaways from the Tao Te Ching, one needs to read with an open mind. The book has been translated into many languages, but the original text is hard to translate word by word.
Lao Tse uses the term ‘master’ in its masculine form. ‘Master’ represents the person who has mastered the art of living right. The teachings apply to everyone; male or female.
Here are the most significant takeaways from the Tao Te Ching:
Lao Tse History
Lao Tse is an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer, the author of the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tse founded Taoism a life philosophy that advocates humility and religious piety. Despite his role in Chinese beliefs, Lao Tse remains a vague historical being. There is very limited information on his existence.
Lao Tse was given the name Laozi, meaning the wise one or ‘Old venerable, Master’. The wisdom is well represented in his work, the Tao Te Chi. Written over two thousand years ago and is a guide in the journey of self-discovery.
The Tao Te Ching contains timeless lessons on self-discovery and self-awareness. The lessons can be adopted by anyone as the principles to live by. Lao introduced simple concepts as the greatest treasures in life.
1. Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion
Life can be complicated, but simplicity, patience, and compassion allow the master to go back to the source of being. Simplicity, patience, and compassion advocate for the following:
- Being patient with others and the environment
- Being compassionate to self
- Allows the master to maneuver all life hurdles with ease
Tao translates the channel, path, or way and a system of morality. A master insists on the virtue and power of attunement with the Tao and strives to live in line with nature.
The master puts effort into realizing what is best for him. However, the master stops when he has done enough and lets nature take control. It is imperative for every master to know their limits and not strive so much to oppose nature.
3. Jing Qi Shen
Jing, Qi, and Shen are the main treasures the master should own. A balance in the three treasures brings physical and spiritual harmony. The harmony and balance contribute to the well-being of the master.
Jing translates to a set of guidelines or the essence. The master can only harmonize with others and nature through a deep connection with self. Jing protects the body from external factors and regulates internal growth and development.
Essence is the core of the master’s growth, development, and reproduction. Jing comes along with the master when he is born and has remained in the body ever since. To stay healthy, the master must not let the Jing deplete.
“Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.”
The master should refrain from all that is against nature to maintain the Jing. If the Jing dies, the master dies. The master should aim to attain their best self, but not overexert themselves.
Qi or Chi is the vital energy of the master’s body. The air the master breathes and the energy that keeps him alive. Not all Qi is good and constructive, but mindful living eliminates the bad Qi and amplifies the good.
Qi is the life force surrounding the master and is altered by the environment within and without. When Qi gathers, a body is built, and when the Qi disperses, the body dies.
Balanced, free-flowing Qi promotes health and well-being. Stagnant, imbalanced Qi brings poor health and being. Imbalanced Qi harms the master and his environment.
Shen is the master’s spirit. The spirit is born when a drop of Shen unites with Jing and Qi. a master should guard his Shen frame by maintaining authenticity. With the evasion of external forces, a master can maintain the Shen.
The master should avoid information systems that name things and instances. Naming deprives the things and instances of their natural state. Avoiding social systems helps preserve nature’s natural, authentic, and spontaneous impulse.
A pure spirit, Shen, enables the master to maintain high levels of self-consciousness. The self-consciousness helps the master to stay connected with the universe. Cultivation of the Shen sets the master apart from the rest of the universe.
The master can only nature their Shen by being rich in Qi and Jing. A healthy Shen, in turn, promotes the blossoming of the Qi and Jing.
Mastering the Jing, Qi, and Shen keep the master’s vitality strong. A strong master is well aligned with nature and is assured of good well-being.
4. Own All Your Faults And Mistakes
When a master makes a mistake, he looks within, realizes, admits, and corrects the mistake. He does not get upset when someone else points out the mistake. Instead, the master treats the individual as a generous teacher.
Each faulty realization is a great learning opportunity for the master, as he does not dwell on his past. The master thinks of his enemies as his own shadow and observes how he judges others. The master does not get triggered by someone’s behavior. Instead, he recognizes the behavior as a character he has manifested.
Observing other people helps the master keep himself in check. The observation evaluates the masters embodied poor traits and works to eliminate them. Accepting faults might bruise your ego, but the master is wise enough to get over it.
Accepting faults and mistakes might take a toll on the master. Yet, the master focuses on raising his consciousness and being a better version of self.
5. Wu Wei
Wu Wei is one of the most excellent teachings of the Tao Te Ching. Wu Wei is the counterproductive effect of endurance and straining in life. Excessive straining to achieve something might be in vain. However, one should not give up and do nothing but identify what works for them and flow with the forces.
“Do that which consists in taking no action and order will prevail,” Wu Wei, the art of doing nothing. The master should master the following:
- Ability to balance working
- Putting in the effort
- Resting as nature takes its course
The master should master his art before setting out to practice. Mastering the art allows him to release himself into effortless competence. A master does not try his art; he just is. This is the art of letting go and letting things flow freely.
It is wise to let things flow naturally according to the concept of uncontrived action. The concept of uncontrived action is also referred to as the natural non-intervention. Do nothing when you are not sure of what to do, and jump onto opportunities you feel ready for.
“When you are content with what you have and don’t feel like anything is missing, the whole world belongs to you.”
One only reaches a point of despair and nonchalance if they stop desiring for much. The master can only desire less when he gets satisfied in their comfort zone. A master of life only discovers peace when he realizes that everything he needs is within his reach.
Nature is a strong force, and only the master knows that he cannot fight the force. Wu Wei is a paradox of actionless action and effortless action. ‘The Way never acts, yet nothing is left undone.’
The master can only experience Wu Wei at its best by letting go and letting in. Being in the zone brings a state of profound concentration, flow, and natural results. Letting go of ideas that try to govern nature allows the master to swim with the current and not against it.
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”
Change and death are the only true constants in life. Understanding this frees the master from suffering and brings freedom in life. One can master their life circumstances by:
- Understanding nature
- Shaping their efforts appropriately
- Being spontaneous in their actions
- Flow with the natural order of things
Wu Wei allows the master to respond to the actual demand of nature in its purest form. Loss of self-consciousness brings unity with the environment and ultimate awareness of self.
The master should be like water, submissive and weak’. For water is ‘yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong.’ Gentle compliance and dedication to a particular form help work around an obstacle and overcome it.
The master can only achieve the greatest effects by having a persistence strategy. Instead of imposing and sticking to a rigid frame, the master should be fluid. The master should allow nature to take its course and wait for the outcome.
6. Surrender Yourself to Life at Each Moment
The master of life surrenders himself to the moment. A master knows what is in his control and beyond his power. The master is not afraid of death, for he knows he has no authority over it. Instead, he surrenders to life, accepting its fatality, and prepares himself for death.
The Tao Te Ching brings a different perspective of life. If we could spend more time understanding and less analyzing and naming the moments. The more time you spend resisting what nature brings your way, the harder it will be for you to enjoy life.
Overanalyzing situations sucks the joy out of life and makes you suffer. The master puts all effort into their daily activities and does their best. In the evening, the master goes to bed satisfied that they did not hold anything back.
Going to sleep is not a guarantee of waking up. A master rejoices in waking up and owns the moment to make the most out of it. He lets go of the past and relishes the new chance life has given him.
Letting go and immersing himself in what life offers is what matters the most to a master enjoying life. ‘True wisdom is being ready to give up anything you may be holding on to and accepting the present as it is.’
The closing of the 13th chapter highlights the need for self-awareness in life. “Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things.” A master cares for every aspect of their life as much as they care about themselves.
A master is an individual who is aware of his environment. A master is comfortable in the duality of being lonely in the presence of other beings. The awareness roots a deep understanding that all beings are mired in a deep-seated, near-universal delusion.
Self-awareness maximizes living in the moment. However, it is natural that loneliness hits hardest when surrounded by other people. A master is a conscious part of the universe and upholds his integrity.
7. Ying and yang
The art of doing nothing is the best way to achieve full potential and be happy in life. The concept is not the literal meaning of being idle. Instead, one should only push their limits to their extent.
The concept of the Ying and Yang reminds the master to look for the balancing point. The balance should be between working hard and letting nature run its cause. The master should only commit to their level best and go to be satisfied they have delivered the best. The master can only wait for nature to take its course after doing his best.
Light and darkness, action and inaction, hot and cold must coexist to create harmony in life. The same concept applies when the master is on a self-discovery journey. The journey is enhanced by the master acknowledging his mistakes and correcting them.
Ying and yang depict harmony in the universe. Nature is made up of two opposite forces that need to coexist to strike a balance in life. A master of life lets all the aspects of nature flow freely and gives in to each other to avoid disrupting the balance in life.
The master must live in harmony with the environment and be self-aware. However, he should be keen to abandon systems meant to guide desires and action.
8. Competition Should Make You Creative and Help You Improve
The master does not wish ill on his opponents on the competition day. He wants every team player to bring their best game to challenge each other. Good skills elevate the quality of the game and bring out the play’s spirit.
Competition is not a measure of the opponent’s ego against the master’s ego. Instead, the game is what it is, the opportunity to engage, play and sharpen their skills. At the end of the game, the master wants everyone to gain something, regardless of the outcome.
The Tao Te Ching has a paradox of competition. ‘It is easier to carry an empty cup than one that is filled to the brim.’ The best way for the master to gain respect from those above him is by refraining from competition and comparison. “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
Water does not compete, but flows at its own pace, conquering obstacles in its way. Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them. It dwells in (lowly) places that all disdain. This is why it is so near to Tao” A true master carves his path and does not compete to prove his ability. The results of his labor are what gain respect on his behalf.
9. Man’s will
Man’s will is not the root of the universe’s problems. However, the master must align his will in harmony with the universe. If the master decides to impose his will against nature, he will go ‘against the flow of life.’
The master must tune his will to Tao to attain completeness and perfection of nature. The pure form of Tao only exists where dualistic social intellect is lacking. A master is a free man, but his freedom should not disrupt nature’s cause and cause havoc in the environment.
It is unrealistic for the master to ignore external constraints while pursuing self. The master can destroy his freedom by fighting against the natural external constraints. ‘I freed myself by shifting my interest, not by repressing it.’
Final Summary and Review of Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu’s philosophy advocates naturalness, spontaneity, and freedom. The master only realizes their true soft by staying in harmony with nature. Tao and Wu Wei work together to reveal the soft, invisible power within all life aspects.
Everything is interconnected; the Jing, Qi, and Shen must coexist. The coexistence of the three brings a balance and a healthy being. Each one of us has the opportunity to attain our best version and exercise power over our lives.
The Tao Te Ching is a wake call to everyone on a self-awareness journey. Mastering the art of balance and accepting the duality of life helps you understand life better.
It is everyone’s mission to thrive and attain the best version of themselves. You can attain this by living consciously and in harmony with nature.
Who Would I Recommend the Tao Te Ching Summary To?
The Tao Te Ching has no limit on who should read it. In any case, the principles of Taoism are some of the greatest treasures you could ever gain. Here are examples of a few individuals who would benefit from this book:
1. A young, ambitious, and curious man
2. An adult of any age interested in all-round development in the main spheres of life, including:
- personal development
3. An entrepreneur in a start-up looking for a reason to show up every day and put all their effort into chasing their dreams.
Tao Te Ching Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
About Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu, also known as Laozi and Lao-Tze, was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. The name “Laozi” is known to mean Old (lao) Master (zi). He is the founder of philosophical Taoism and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.
Tao Te Ching can be translated as The Book of the Way. The main concepts presented in this book are:
- (What are) Tao and Te, the basics of Taoism.
- The (attainment of the) human spiritual perfection (sageness) in relation to the Tao.
- The art of ruling through applying the Taoist principles.
The book addresses three kinds of people: those who follow the Tao, the noblemen who take part in the life of communities and the rulers who aim to lead their lands beneficially.
The Tao that can be named isn’t actually the eternal Tao. The eternal Tao is the nameless origin of everything there is. It’s the place where Heaven and Earth come from. The named Tao is the “mother of myriad things.” This is all the stuff that eventually came to physically exist in the universe.
Once we know beauty, we know ugliness. Once we know good, we know evil. All these opposites support each other and can’t exist without one another.
The sages use this knowledge of dualities to live their lives with the Tao. For one, they live with the wu wei, or unattached action. Wu wei is about living in the moment, being relaxed and not obsessing over outcomes.
This chapter ends by giving us the secret to the sages’ success: they don’t dwell on success, so it never goes away.
Now, we get some advice on how to run a society. It’s a bad idea to make a big deal about overachievers. If we do, then everybody will start fighting because they want to be a big deal too. It’s also a bad idea to declare things that are hard to find as valuable. This is another way to encourage fighting over something that is scarce.
Eventually, the Tao has its way with everything. Sharp things become dull. Knots come loose. Lights go dim. The dust of everything mixes together. You could see this as a “time heals all” or a “time destroys all” concept. Nobody knows where this concept comes from because it is older than everything.
Heaven and Earth are totally unbiased. If a meteor slams into the Earth, it doesn’t care who or what it slams into. You can be hit by this meteor irrespective of how good or bad a person you have been. The sages take a cue from Heaven and Earth and also judge without bias.
This short chapter is all about girl power and celebrates what it calls the “Mystic Female.”
The book reminds us to recognize the sacred power of femininity and that all life comes from it. This feminine spirit is flowing all around us and never gets worn out.
Heaven and Earth are eternal, and the reason they last forever is they don’t ever think of themselves. So, the sages take another cue from Heaven and Earth by always putting others first. In the end, the sages actually achieve their goals by adopting this approach.
This chapter tells us that water needs to be our new role model. Water is excellent because it gives to everything without complaining and flows to places people turn their noses up at. In this way, it’s a lot like the Tao.
Here are all the relevant positive traits associated with water that you should be inspired by:
1) It’s deep
2) It gives with kindness
3) It’s honest, reflecting everything as it is
4) It controls everything within its power equally and impartially
5) It’s totally adaptable, always changing to match its environment
6) It has excellent timing
It is a bad idea to overfill your cup. Wealth and power make people arrogant, and disaster follows. If you do happen to get famous, it’s best to take a step back from it.
This chapter highlights the importance of asking yourself the following questions:
- Is it possible to be totally at one with everything and never stray from that oneness?
- If we concentrate our energy and find total relaxation, can we be as simple as babies again?
- If we don’t get all wrapped up in the world, will we be clean of imperfections?
The chapter ends by defining something called the “Mystic Virtue.” This is basically the ability to help and teach those around you without being arrogant.
This chapter covers the awesomeness of emptiness. Emptiness is totally and completely necessary for the function of many things.
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” – Lao Tzu
It is a bad idea to be over-competitive and constantly be searching for something.
The sages care for “the stomach not the eyes.” We ought to focus on finding a deep sense of wellbeing rather than worrying about the superficial stuff we can see with our eyes.
The book argues “the greatest misfortune is the self.” The worst thing that can happen to us is becoming self-obsessed. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t value ourselves, though. We should value ourselves in the same way we value the world. People who love themselves in the same way they love the world can be entrusted with the world.
The Tao Te Ching tells us to look at the Tao even though it can’t be seen, listen to it even though it can’t be heard and reach for it even though it doesn’t have any form.
Even though the Tao is metaphysical (spiritual, intangible) in nature, we should try to attune ourselves to it. The Tao isn’t bright or dark. The Tao is also endless; we can’t see its end or beginning.
To be a great Tao master, you need the following qualities:
- Careful and cautious, but not crazily so
- Serious in a respectful way, like a guest
- Loose; kind of easygoing
- Genuine and simple
The Tao Te Ching advises us to empty ourselves to find peace. When we’re empty, we can truly observe our environment. If we’re disconnected from the flow, we cause all kinds of trouble. If we accept it impartially, we can get rid of the self and be at one with the eternal Tao.
What makes a good ruler? The best rulers are so subtle and skilled at what they do that people don’t even notice them. The next best is not as subtle, but they’re still valuable. So, they get mountains of praise from the people.
Things start going seriously downhill when a ruler rules through fear. And we’ve hit rock-bottom when a ruler is totally incompetent and despised.
The book advises us to have no trust in rulers who don’t have any trust in themselves.
To be at one with the eternal Tao, we have to remember that the great Tao fades away. Keep this idea in the front of your mind. Next, we’re advised that if our families are falling apart, we need to focus on love and loyalty. And if our nations are in chaos, we need to know that somewhere there are loyal ministers.
Everyone would be better off if there weren’t any would-be sages publishing books, thinking they’re better than everybody else. Similarly, people will naturally be more generous if nobody is self-righteously giving to those they think are beneath them. If nobody is selfishly lusting after profit in our society, there would be no stealing.
The author warns against getting too obsessed with knowledge. Knowledge only creates worry. So, we’re asked some questions that make us think about the relativity of things. The book describes how living as a Tao master can separate you from other people.
When everybody is happy and enjoying a feast, you can appear uninvolved. You are like a baby who isn’t smiling yet. Other people may seem bright and clear, but you may seem muddled.
This chapter reminds us that the Tao is eternal and has been spoken of ever since ancient times. It is the source of all things. So, if there’s anything you don’t like about your life, you can take it up with the Tao.
This chapter gives us a lesson on yielding. Just because a leaf bends doesn’t mean it won’t be straight again. If somebody comes at you with some conflict, just let them do their thing and go about their business.
It’s better to use fewer words that say a lot rather than many words that say nothing.
The next chunk of this chapter gives us a lesson on how we become whatever we set our minds on. If we focus on the Tao, we’re with the Tao. If we focus on virtue, then virtue is with us. If we focus on loss, then all we are is loss. If we live our lives distrusting everybody, then nobody will trust us.
The author lectures us on the dangers of arrogance. People who are with the Tao hate arrogance and treat it like “leftover food or tumors.” Even though arrogance is part of the Tao like everything else, it’s an unfortunate part of the Tao that real-deal Tao masters don’t engage in.
This one starts by talking about a formless substance that existed before Heaven and Earth.
It’s quiet. It’s changeless but is endlessly circulating. It’s the mother of the world. It’s the Tao.
The best way to describe the Tao is “great.” “Great” means it’s continually receding and returning like a big, whopping ocean of everything.
To have the looseness required to be with the Tao, you must also have a grounded personality.
We sometimes have to carry around serious thoughts and understandings as we go through our lives.
You can learn from good people and bad people too. Good people who don’t realize that they can learn from bad people are destined for confusion.
We’ve got to be in touch with both our masculine and feminine sides. We’re also advised to try to be like babies, who exist in a simple, open state.
It’s useless to try to control the world because the world cannot be controlled. The Tao is all about balance, and everything has its place in that—leaders and followers, hot things and cold things, strong things and weak things. The sages recognized that the best thing to do is to eliminate extremes, excess and arrogance.
There’s not much point in using soldiers to solve problems since eventually, somebody else’s soldiers will attack you in retaliation.
Violence is a bad idea. The book also advises on how a talented military commander behaves. A talented commander achieves the necessary results and then stops.
All things hate a strong military. The military is not a tool for honorable men.
When honorable men are forced to use violence, they only do it out of necessity. They remain detached from the whole thing and don’t find any glory in victory. People who enjoy killing are never going “to achieve their ambitions upon the world.” In the end, we’re told everyone who dies in war should be mourned.
There will be no need to force things to be good; they just will be good. We have to know when to stop naming things. If we know when to stop, then we avoid danger.
This one’s all about knowing yourself. You’re pretty smart if you understand others, but you’re totally enlightened if you understand yourself.
Then it tells us that you’re strong if you overcome others, but it’s only when you overcome yourself that you’re truly powerful.
Again, the Tao is compared to water. This time it’s compared to a flood that can flow around any object it comes into contact with.
The Tao doesn’t desire anything. It doesn’t make a big deal about itself, so it’s easy not to notice it. Everything returns to it, though.
“Hold the great image / All under heaven will come” – Lao Tzu
If you’re at one with the Tao, then people will come to you. The next line adds that when they come, they’ll come peacefully. We’re reminded that the Tao can’t be tasted, seen, or heard.
If we want to shrink something, we have to expand it first. If we want to weaken something, we have to strengthen it first. If we want to get rid of something, we have to encourage it first. If we want to seize something, we have to give that thing first. All these truths give us “subtle clarity”.
The Tao never tries to do anything, yet everything that’s done is caused by it.
Again, we’re reminded of the importance of humility and decreasing desire. If we find true stillness, then anything is possible.
Genuinely virtuous people just are. They don’t force it. People who are truly generous and kind don’t go around announcing how generous and kind they are. They don’t do generous things so that people will think they’re generous.
People who hide behind etiquette and rules to show that they’re good are posers when it comes right down to it.
Finding oneness comes with all kinds of benefits. You’ll find clarity like the sky. Peace like the Earth. Spiritual power like the gods. Vital energy like all the living things around you.
If we don’t find oneness, bad stuff happens. A sky without clarity breaks apart. The Earth without peace erupts. Good rulers base everything on those beneath them.
Everything that exists comes from nonexistence. So, somewhere back in the ancient past, all elements came out of nothingness. Eventually, everything will return to it. But in Tao, nothing isn’t nothing. It’s filled with infinite possibilities.
Different kinds of people have all kinds of different reactions to the Tao. The true Tao is hard to understand and full of contradictions.
Often it appears to be its opposite, or maybe it’s made of opposites that exist simultaneously. This is why the true Tao is hidden and nameless.
This chapter digs into the concept of yin and yang. Basically, these are the two opposing forces within the Tao that work in harmony to keep everything rolling along.
In the beginning, there was only the one Tao. It then split into yin and yang, which then split into everything there is. If we want to live healthy lives, we have to find the balance between yin (humble female energy) and yang (more aggressive male energy).
Here come a couple more seeming contradictions. The softest things override the hardest things. Things that seem like they have no substance can creep into things that seem totally solid.
A person who acts with the Tao isn’t hardcore about everything; they act with subtlety.
Which is more important, being rich and famous or truly knowing yourself? Which is more painful, gaining things or losing them?
When we base our lives on making money to buy stuff, all we ever want to do is buy more stuff. And when all we are in the purchases we have, then we’ve lost something that’s pretty darn important: our true selves.
Great perfection, a.k.a. the Tao, might seem flawed. Great fullness, a.k.a. the Tao, might seem empty. Still, the Tao does its thing without stopping.
“Stillness overcomes movement” – Lao Tzu
This all might be getting at the way Tao masters live simply and quietly. They don’t do more than is necessary, but when they do something, they make it count.
The answer to world peace? A world where everybody has the Tao.
A world that’s full of greed and dissatisfaction is an unpleasant place to be. It’s not a place where people are at one with the Tao.
This chapter claims we can know the Tao without ever going out the door or looking out of a window. The true sage looks inward to find the Tao.
Here, we’re told that the pursuit of knowledge does gain us stuff. But gaining isn’t always a good thing since all it does is make you want to gain more of the same thing. To find the Tao, you have to lose, lose, and lose some more.
When you’ve found the Tao, you can engage in unattached action, which can mean that when you do stuff, you don’t get super obsessed with the outcome.
The sages don’t get stuck in one way of thinking. They’re always open to what people have to say. The sages also live out in the world; they don’t hide on mountaintops. It’s kind of their job to take care of all people like parents take care of children.
This chapter represents the dangers in life with rhinos, tigers, and soldiers. It points out ways to avoid them.
If we’re overly cautious, we never truly live. If we’re too bold, we’re just begging to die. And suppose we live with excess, overindulging in everything. In that case, those rhinos, tigers, and soldiers will have us in no time.
But, if we live with the Tao and practice moderation, the bad things in life will have a much harder time taking hold of us.
Every living thing comes from the Tao and is then shaped by its own virtue or living energy. The surrounding forces then shape living things. So, we should respect the Tao and value virtue.
The Tao is the mother of the world and every living thing. Knowing that we are the children of the Tao helps us to avoid all the dangers in life.
We should close our mouths and shut our doors so that we can live peaceful lives. But if we’re always all up in everybody’s business, our lives will blow chunks.
The Tao’s path is wide and simple to walk, but people still get distracted by side paths like greed.
You can always tell when a society is living without the Tao because the rulers wear fancy clothes, have dangerous weapons, and are crazy rich.
You can see the Tao of others through yourself, of other families through your family, of other communities through your community.
The chapter ends by telling us to observe the world with the world.
But how do we know that the world is? Easy. It’s just another part of the Tao like everything else. If we have that strong spiritual foundation, we can recognize it for what it is.
The most virtuous kinds of people are like newborn babies. They live in a state of simplicity. The key is being in harmony with the Tao, which gives you the clarity you need to be simple and virtuous.
The main thing to avoid is being too aggressive. If you spend all your energy in one sudden burst, it quickly runs out.
People who talk all the time don’t know that much, but people who are silent know a lot.
We’re also told we have to unravel the knots, which probably is another reference to living simply. Dimming the glare is also a good idea.
This chapter wants to give a little advice to the rulers and governments out there.
First, it’s crucial to rule with integrity and be honest, straightforward, and good.
When governments pass a ton of restrictive laws, they end up being poor and turn into criminals to survive.
If a country is super aggressive and all its people are armed, things get super chaotic super fast.
As a ruler, practicing unattached action, limiting interference, and decreasing personal desire will make the lives of all people better over time.
Here comes a little more advice for rulers. If you aren’t overbearing as a ruler, the people are automatically simple and honest.
If you constantly spy on your citizens and boss them around, they’ll just find more and more sneaky ways to avoid your scrutiny.
Whether you’re governing people or serving Heaven, it’s best to conserve your energy. Be moderate and give yourself over to the Tao, and you’ll steadily accumulate virtue. If you do these things, there’s nothing you can’t overcome.
When you have a firm spiritual foundation in the Tao, you’ll be everlasting.
“Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish” – Lao Tzu
Next, we’re told that when a country is ruled with the Tao, neither its gods nor its demons can harm it. So, the demons must be all the bad stuff like violence and turmoil that can happen when a ruler’s got no Tao.
Nonviolence is the way to go. Like the gods, the sages don’t harm people. Choose peace, and peace will come back to you.
This chapter takes the idea of humility and applies it to how large, powerful countries ought to behave. If large countries are humble, they’ll retain their influence.
Suppose large countries spend all their time bossing around all the other countries. In that case, they’ll eventually fall and will be taken over by the smaller countries they used to pick on.
The Tao is everything. Kind people treasure it. Unkind people are protected by it.
Since good words and actions can improve people, we should never abandon unkind people. All this is the wisdom of the Tao, and it’s the greatest gift there is.
Unattached action is the way to go. Manage things, but don’t interfere too much. Respond to hatred with compassion.
Don’t get overwhelmed by big tasks. Think of them as a series of small tasks. Do one thing at a time as eventually you’ll get it all done.
First, we’re advised to deal with small problems before they turn into big ones. Then we’re reminded that the biggest trees grow from small saplings and that the tallest towers start from heaps of dirt. The longest journeys start with the dirt beneath our feet.
Don’t meddle too much or grasp too hard, or else you’ll fail in what you try to do. It’s also important to put just as much energy into the end of a task as the beginning. Otherwise you’ll certainly fail.
The ancient sage kings used the Tao to help people. Instead of ruling through clever tricks, they ruled with straightforward honesty.
This encouraged people to live with simplicity. Living simply with the Tao is called the Mystic Virtue. The Mystic Virtue is infinite and goes beyond material things.
This chapter points out the power of being humble with a pretty great metaphor.
Rivers and oceans take all the water in the world into them simply because they are the lowest points on the Earth.
The Tao is so great it can’t be compared to anything. If it could be compared to anything, then it wouldn’t be the Tao.
The way of the Tao has three main treasures:
The best generals aren’t big, aggressive jerks who love war. They don’t stomp around being angry all the time.
The greatest victories were won without violence. The most outstanding leaders lead with humility.
In war it’s best to let the enemy be the aggressor. By biding your time and strategically retreating, you create a situation where your enemy is more likely to make a mistake.
The chapter uses a cool metaphor for this when it advises armies to behave more like a guest than a host.
We’re told that even though the way of the Tao is based on simple, universal truths, it can be tough for people to understand. So, most people don’t get the sages either.
But, the fact that few people genuinely understand the sages makes them all more valuable.
The sage-iest thing about sages is that they know what they don’t know and recognize how they’re flawed. The thing that makes the sages perfect is they recognize their own imperfections.
If we recognize our failings and learn from them, then they have no power over us.
It’s essential to give people freedom and make sure they’re allowed to pursue their livelihoods without significant interference.
1) Know themselves, but don’t brag about themselves.
2) Respect themselves, but don’t talk about how cool they are all the time.
“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.” – Lao Tzu
People who are super bold and go rushing into everything end up dead. People who have courage without being overly aggressive are the ones who will survive.
The Tao doesn’t fight but always wins. It doesn’t speak but always answers. It doesn’t do things in a rush but gets everything done.
This chapter argues there’s not much point in capital punishment since it does absolutely nothing to deter crime.
It warns the people to starve when a ruler overtaxes them. When a ruler is too forceful and controls every little thing, the people eventually become hard to control.
The people will rebel if the ruler lives a fancy life at their expense. If the people’s lives are awful, they won’t care if they die. So, there’s no reason they won’t violently rebel against their corrupt ruler.
This chapter begins by observing that dead things are dry and brittle while living things are soft and flexible. Tao Te Ching takes a lesson from this and says we should live with flexibility.
If we are rigid and superset in our ways, then the world is going to break us. An army that’s inflexible will lose.
We begin by using a simile to say that the Tao is like drawing a bow. If the arrow is pointed too low, you have to raise the bow to compensate, and vice versa.
The Tao naturally balances everything. When something becomes excessive, it reduces it. When something is reduced, it fills it up again.
Water should be our role model. Though it seems soft and weak, it can overcome anything, no matter how hard and strong the thing seems.
The chapter ends by telling us again that humility is the way to go. Through humility, we gain personal power.
After any fight, there’s bound to be some residual bad feelings. The best thing to do is forgive and forget.
Small countries can be well-armed, but they shouldn’t use their arms unless they absolutely have to. The best thing is for people to live at peace in their homeland, enjoying their simple lives and customs.
Neighboring countries should live in harmony and not bug each other all the time.
The final chapter begins by pointing out that sometimes beautiful words aren’t true and that true words sometimes aren’t beautiful.
You could interpret this as people can hide lies in flowery speeches. The truth is much easier to find in simple, straightforward statements like the Tao masters use.
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
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