Tao Te Ching – Chapter 60


Cooking a small fish is a great metaphor, not only for a king to rule the kingdom, but also for you to rule your life. You need to turn the fish over to cook both sides, but not so many times that it falls apart — and this means you must use the Tao of moderation and balance.

A king who follows this path can protect his kingdom against the demons of chaos, crime and conflict, as well as the negative consequences of well-meaning interference. Similarly, those who follow this Tao can protect themselves against the inner demons of self-sabotage and the harmful effects of meddling in other people’s business. Just as the sage kings of ancient times ruled their subjects in peace, Tao cultivators who understand this lesson enjoy harmonious relationships with the people who who are near and dear to them.

When you and your loved ones come together this way, the result is a positive fusion. As your virtue connects with theirs synergistically, everyone gets a bit closer… to the goal of returning to oneness.

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Translation Notes

In an attempt to grasp the fish-cooking simile, some translators have injected explanatory notes into the translation. One writes “Govern a great country as you would fry a small fish: neither gut nor scale them.” Another writers “One should govern a great state as one fries small fish — i.e. do not scale or clean them.”

The first problem with the above is that translators should understand the difference between translation and interpretation, and stick to the ancient text rather than their own ideas. Lao Tzu did not provide specific instructions on preparing the fish, and whatever interpretations translators wish to present should be marked separately as commentary.

The second problem is this odd notion of not gutting, scaling, or cleaning a fish before frying it. Perhaps it came from some academic who had never done any cooking before. Rest assured the ancients would consider this quite ludicrous, and would always prepare all ingredients properly — including fish — before cooking.

Derek Lin
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