Tao Te Ching – Chapter 65


The ancient sage kings understood the Tao quite well, so they never used it to teach people shrewdness. Instead, they taught people how to live the simple life. They knew that if they made everyone more crafty, more calculating, things would become more complex and more difficult — for the rulers as well as the people themselves.

It’s like that for us as well. If we get too clever in managing our lives, things become complicated and stressful, as if we have stolen peace of mind from ourselves. If we let go of all that cleverness and simplify everything instead, we get much better results — as if we have given blessings to ourselves!

These are the two approaches to life: use craftiness and increase complexity, or use the Tao and relinquish baggage. To know both and choose wisely is called Mystic Virtue. It is an advanced level of the Tao that goes deeper and further than most people realize, for it is opposed to their materialistic perspectives. As life unfolds, Mystic Virtue will be revealed as the best way to flow smoothly with the Tao.

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Translation Notes

國之賊 and 國之福 — thief of state and blessing of state respectively — are metaphors that paint a vivid picture of how we can sabotage or empower ourselves. Despite their central importance to this chapter, they are sometimes distorted by authors, and sometimes left out altogether.

賊, the character for thief, is often mistranslated as “curse,” even though it can never have that meaning in Mandarin. Translators choose “curse” only because it is the opposite of “blessing”, so they feel it makes the English version read better.

This distortion deprives the reader of the concept that living contrary to the Tao — for instance, increasing complexity in one’s life — is not unlike stealing from oneself. This is an example where bad translation directly impacts what we can learn from the ancient classic.

Derek Lin
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