Tao Te Ching – Chapter 50


People approach life and death in dramatically different ways. Some of them seek longevity by playing it safe in everything they do, while others seek thrills by taking risks — as if they have a death wish.

There are also those who want to live as much as possible, but end up speeding their way toward death.
Why? Because they go overboard in trying to enjoy life to the utmost, and suffer the consequences of overindulgence.

Relatively few people — about one in ten — truly understand the best way to live. When they travel on the road of life, they do not come across wild animals; when they enter into the arena of social competition, they are not injured by weapons. Criticisms as sharp as rhino horns, rumors as vicious as tiger claws, and personal attacks like the blades of soldiers… all these things become useless against them.

Why? It is only because they live in accordance with the Tao, so they have no weakness for anything or anyone to exploit.

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Translation Notes

The expression 十有三 appears three times in this chapter. It literally means “ten has three,” and can correctly translated as “there are three in ten” or “out of ten, there are three.”

Translating it as “thirteen” is erroneous. Thirteen in Mandarin is 十三, not 十有三.

Translating it as “one third” or “a third” is also erroneous. If Lao Tzu wanted to express that, he could have written something like 三有一, or “there is one out of three.”

Why doesn’t Lao Tzu explicitly state 十有一, or “there is one out of ten,” for the last category of individuals? The simplest answer is that it is assumed as obvious — after three sets of three, or nine altogether, the only logical possibility for the last category is one in ten.

Derek Lin
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