Notes on

Tao Te Ching

by Lao-Tzu


This book is what founded Taoism.

Taoism emphasized "inner freedom, meditation, and the Self-Cultivation of the individual, surrender to the spontaneous rhythms of nature, primordial intuition, and exploration of the mysteries of the human condition and the wonders of the cosmos, listening to the silent music of the Tao."

The Art of War is from the same time period as Tao Te Ching and The Analects of Confucius

No one every found out who Lao-Tzu was.

Lao-Tzu said, according to Sima Qian:

"[...] I have heard that just as the best merchant keeps his stores hidden so that he appears to possess nothing, so the True Gentleman conceals his abundant Inner Power beneath an appearance of foolishness. Rid yourself of Pride and Desire, put aside your fancy manner and your lustful ways. They will bring you nothing but harm. That is all I have to say.” (Page 0)

2. A Wordless Teaching

The Tao gives Birth
But never Possesses.
The Taoist Acts
Without Attachment,
Without dwelling
On Achievement,
And so never loses.

This is not very far from the Stoic philosophy.

3. Non-Action

Not to Honor the Worthy
Puts an end to Contending
Among the folk.
Not to Prize Rare Goods
Puts an end to Theft
Among the folk.
Not to Display Objects of Desire
Removes Chaos
From the Heart-and-Mind
Of the folk.

If we removed the incentives, these actions would cease.

9. Letting Go

Letting Go is better
Than Filling to the Brim.
A blade overly sharpened
Does not last long.
Halls stuffed with gold and jade
None can preserve.
Wealth, Rank, Pride,
All bring Calamity.
The Tao of Heaven-and-Nature
Is to Accomplish
And to Withdraw.

Whosoever Achieves Fame and fails to Withdraw, whosoever does not Let Go, but remains stuck in the place of Honor and Glory, will surely meet with Harm.

That which is Filled to the Brim will spill. That which is overly sharpened will break. Such extremes bring their own downfall. Eschew them. No one can hold on to Wealth for ever.

Duyvendak: Just as one should never keep on filling a vase, or sharpening a blade, so one should never try to hold on to worldly treasures, or boast of Wealth and Rank. The Tao Lets Go, lets things follow their natural course, lets things unfold. Once something is Accomplished, the inevitable Cycle begins again.

11. Non-Being

Thirty Spokes joined in a hub
Form a Wheel.
The Emptiness between,
The Non-Being,
Makes the Carriage Useful.
Clay kneaded
Forms a Pot.
The Emptiness within,
The Non-Being,
Makes the Pot Useful.
Windows and doors chiseled
Create a House;
The Emptiness within,
The Non-Being,
Makes the House Useful.
Being and Substance
Bring Benefit.
Non-Being and Emptiness
Make things Useful.

Sometimes, what is not, is more important than what is.

Windows may be in building a House, the chief thing is the space within. What “is not,” therefore, is more important in these cases than “what is.”

22. Embracing the One

The Taoist
Embraces the One,
A Model for All-under-Heaven,
> Shines
But never displays,
Is Radiant
But never Proud.
But never Boasts,
But never Brags.

28. The Uncarved Block

The Greatest Carver
Does the least cutting.

33. Knowing Self

To understand Others
Is Wisdom,
To know Self
Is Illumination.
To vanquish Others
Requires Force,
To vanquish Self
Requires Strength.
To know Contentment
Is True Wealth.
To Persevere
Requires Will.
Not to lose one’s Place
Is to Endure,
To Die but not to Perish,
Is Long Life.

44. Sufficiency

Which is Dearer:
Or True Person?
Which means more:
Person or Property?
Which causes greater Harm:
Gain or Loss?
Undue Love
Comes at Great Cost.
> Hoarding entails
Heavy Loss.
To Know Sufficiency
Averts Disgrace;
Whosoever Knows
When to Halt
Averts Misfortune,

64. Suchness, the So-of-Itself

A stout tree
An arm’s span in girth
Grew from
A tiny shoot.
A mighty terrace
Nine stories high
Began as
A mound of earth.
A journey
Of a thousand leagues
Commenced with
A single step.

The Taoist Desires No-Desire,
Does not value
Goods that are
Hard to come by,

66. Kings of the Hundred Valleys

Whosoever wishes to be
Above the folk,
In speech must be
Beneath them.
Whosoever wishes to be
Ahead of them
Must be

If you want to lead; support and serve.

68. The Power of Not-Contending

The best Soldier
Is not Warlike.
The best Warrior
Never fights
Out of Wrath.
The best Victory
Does not Engage the Enemy.

71. Knowledge and Illness

To Know
To Know
That one does not Know,
To Know
That there is a Limit
To what one Knows,
This is
True and Highest
To deny True Knowledge,
To deny Truth,
Is an Illness.
If this is seen for what it is,
And treated
As an Illness,
It can be cured.
The Taoist
Sees Illness as Illness,
And is healthy.

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