Tao Te Ching – Chapter 59

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Paraphrase

When you take charge of your life, manage your relationships, and follow the heavenly Tao, the most important principle to keep in mind is the conservation of your resources.

We all have a limited amount of time and energy in this mortal existence, so we have to make the best use of it. That means the wisest thing to do is not waste any more of your life looking for alternatives, and just follow the Tao. This, in turn, means you can get started on accumulating virtues as soon as possible.

It’s a slow, gradual process, hardly flashy or exciting, but it is the true path where little things add up to big things, and good days add up to good months, good years, and eventually a good life. By walking this path, you can overcome anything and become an unlimited individual. You gain lasting sovereignty over your destiny, like an absolute ruler over a powerful kingdom.

This is like the growth of roots deep in the soil, or the gradual construction of a solid foundation. It is the Tao of a long and joyous life, one that you can see when you look far into the future.

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Translation Notes

This chapter opens with the concept of 早服. 早 means early, and 服 in this context means to obey, follow or submit. Together, 早服 means the sooner you start following the path, the sooner you’ll hit the milestones and landmarks along the way. Later on, you’ll wish you had gotten started with the Tao earlier, so the wisest thing is to not wait for the perfect time, and just get going right now. Quiet the nagging distractions in your mind, and submit to the Tao.

This seems to be a sticking point for translators. Some skip over it completely, while others try to get closer to the original meaning, without ever really hitting the mark. One renders it as “early return (to man’s normal state)” while another writes “one must form the habit early.” These tend to obscure, rather than clarify, Lao Tzu’s original expression.

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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