Tao Te Ching – Chapter 58


A wise emperor rules without piercing scrutiny, so the people can relax and live simple lives. The unwise ruler, on the other hand, wants to monitor and restrict everything, and that forces people to resort to evasive tactics.

Misfortune and blessings are two sides of the same coin. One leads to the other and vice versa. This may seem counterintuitive, but when you look deeper into life, you can see it is quite true. For example, when you encounter defeat, it may give you the motivation to stage a triumphant comeback. When you enjoy good fortune, you may become complacent and therefore create misfortune. So, what you think of as right may get twisted, and what seems to be good may turn out to be bad. When you are mired in the perspective of attachments, all of this can cause much confusion.

How do the sages handle this? They hold themselves to a high standard without imposing it on other people. They require integrity in themselves, but they don’t demand it from others. They can be very direct, and yet remain gentle. They illuminate the path for people — without blinding them.

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Translation Notes

One of the descriptions for the sage is 方而不割, where 方 means upright and 割 means to cut. 方而不割 means the sage is conscientious but not critical. The sage adheres to a personal code of honor, but has no expectations that others must do the same.

Once you understand the above, you’ll be able to tell that 方而不割 should never be translated as “square but not sharp” as one particular translator has done. This is just not a good description of an ethical person who does not treat others harshly. Indeed, it may even paint a misleading picture of someone who is conservative (“square” in slang or informal usage) and dim-witted (i.e., not the sharpest tool in the shed). The sages are definitely not like that.

Derek Lin
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