Tao Te Ching – Chapter 46


When we understand the Tao, a positive and productive peace prevails among nations and in our lives. There is no need for conflict, so swords are beaten into plowshares, and fast horses are used for farming instead of military scouting missions.

When we fail to understand the Tao, conflict and chaos prevail among nations and in our lives. There is endless warfare, so mares are pressed into service as warhorses, and if they become pregnant, they will have no choice but to give birth on the battlefield.

What causes such a crime against all people, such a disaster for the world, such a fault for humanity itself? It is nothing less than the delusional desire that can never be satisfied, the lack of contentment like a bottomless pit, and the grasping hands of greed.

There is only one solution, and that is the true fulfillment of the Tao. Only the true path can take you to a contentment that is as constant as the Tao is eternal. This is our goal: the quest for the Tao is the quest for lasting peace.

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Translation Notes

This chapter is the poster child of the rampant mistranslations and distortions in the Tao Te Ching world. This is the chapter that got twisted beyond recognition to include factories, trucks, tractors and warheads in place of farms and horses. Even readers without knowledge of ancient Chinese can guess that these elements come from the author’s own imagination, rather than Lao Tzu’s words.

Is there a good reason for the modern metaphors? In this case, no. The line that says “warheads are stockpiled outside the cities” doesn’t come anywhere near Lao Tzu’s original text about mares being forced to give birth on the battlefield. Lao Tzu evokes the misery of war with imagery that is vivid, powerful, and unforgettable. The distorted version is none of the above. Why should anyone accept such a contrivance over the superior original?

Derek Lin
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