Tao Te Ching – Chapter 72

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Paraphrase

A ruler who treats the subjects poorly will eventually get to a point when people have had enough. They lose their fear of the tyrant’s power and bring about an even greater power in an uprising. This is why the ruler should not limit the people’s freedom, and not live in ignorance of how they live.

Similarly, if you keep trying to force your way on others, eventually people will be fed up and push back against you. This is why you should avoid bossing them around, and try looking at things from their perspective. Only when you accept them as being on the same level as yourself, will you have a chance of being accepted by them.

Thus, the sages follow the Tao in the way they treat others and manage themselves. They possess self-awareness, so they never flaunt, or put themselves on display — intentionally or otherwise. They respect themselves — but never so much that they place their own needs ahead of the people in an egotistic way. In general, the sages discard the illusory desires of the world, and affirm the genuine Tao in life. This is how they attain lasting peace and harmony.

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Translation Notes

自見 is sometimes misunderstood as “self-see,” based on limited knowledge of modern Mandarin. This leads to the line being mistranslated as “the sage knows himself but does not see himself.”

What 自見 actually means in this context is “letting oneself be seen,” which means putting oneself on display. In modern English, we might say “showing off” or “hogging the spotlight.”

Thus, what the whole line actually says is something like “the sages know themselves, but do not showcase themselves” — this is a bit different from, and much clearer than, the mistranslation.

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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