Tao Te Ching – Chapter 48


Most people want to increase their knowledge every day, thus making their lives ever more complicated. Tao cultivated are the opposite – they want to simplify a little bit every day.

This process of simplification continues until they reach the state where they have no attachments at all. This state is a direct experience of the Tao, a perfect flow in the present moment where nothing is impossible.

By not interfering with this flow, one can master the Tao, and therefore the world. Those who cannot stop themselves from interfering will never be able to master themselves. Thus, the world is lost to them.

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Translation Notes

有事, the last two characters in the penultimate line, can be difficult to understand. It is similar to 多管閒事, a modern Mandarin expression describing a busybody. So, the last part of this chapter is saying that someone who keeps getting into everyone else’s business will fail. People dislike meddling, and the meddler will often discover his own business has been badly neglected while his attention was elsewhere.

The same principle applies to all the backseat drivers and micromanagers in our world. They fail in life because people avoid them whenever possible, and tolerate them only when they have no choice.

Translators who do not understand Lao Tzu’s point will often pick an inappropriate word for what they think 事 means. One translator thinks it’s “diplomacy”; another translates it as “craft.” These choices lead to renderings that defy comprehension. For example:

  • He who uses diplomacy is not fit to take the empire.
  • If one uses craft, he is not fit to command the empire.

I think we can all agree that the taking and commanding of the empire will, without question, require the use of diplomacy and craft. These lines don’t make a lot of sense — because they are based on incorrect understanding.

Derek Lin
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