Tao Te Ching – Chapter 49

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Paraphrase

The sages are not dogmatic. They seek to know other perspectives in order to refine their own.

Having the virtue of goodness means being good to everyone, whether good or bad. It means your conduct is not conditional or dependent on external factors. Similarly, the virtue of belief or trust means when you have faith in people, you believe in them whether or not they have the same faith in themselves.

Real sages get involved while false sages hide from the world. They know people look to them as examples, like children looking to parents, so they are especially careful to set the best example they can.

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Translation Notes

The first description of the sage in this chapter is 無常心. 無 means “being without.” 常 means “constant.” 心 can mean “heart,” but points to the mind in this context. Altogether, 無常心 means the sages do not have an inflexible, unyielding mind, one that never changes no matter what. If they see compelling evidence against what they believe, they will examine that belief, and make revisions as necessary. They are the complete opposite of religious zealots.

Not all translations make the above easy to see. One says “The Master has no mind of her own,” which suggests someone who is not opinionated or decisive. Another says “The Sage has no fixed heart of his own,” which suggests someone who does not play favorites. Neither one hits the target.

Years ago, I advocated translating 心 as “heart,” noting that the English word could also mean “mind,” so it was a good linguistic equivalent. However, the translation I created with this rule sounded odd and did not convey the flavor of the original. I had to revise my position and go with the popular approach of translating it directly as “mind.” This is my personal attempt to emulate the 無常心 of the sages.

Derek Lin

Derek Lin is an award-winning, bestselling author in the Tao genre. He was born in Taiwan and grew up with native fluency in both Chinese and English. His background lets him convey Eastern teachings to Western readers in a way that is clear, simple and authentic.

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