Tao Te Ching – Chapter 71


Those who follow the Tao realize they don’t know everythying. They learn more by practicing the highest ideal of humility.

Those who move against the Tao are ignorant of their own ignorance, and this leads them to the flaw of arrogance.

Those who recognize their problems as problems are the only ones who can solve them. They are completely different from the ones who remain stubbornly unaware, and therefore powerless to change anything for the better.

This is how the sages work on themselves. They practice self-reflection by reviewing their words and actions on a regular basis. By noting their problems as problems, they gain leverage on themselves to work toward solutions.

We have to do the same in Tao cultivation — recognize our imperfections in the present moment, and use that recognition to perfect ourselves for a future of greater enlightenment.

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Translation Notes

The most common meaning of 病 in Mandarin is disease or sickness. Therefore, many authors mistakenly assume 病病 must mean “sick of being sick.” They do not understand that 病, unlike “sick” in English, can never mean being weary or fed up with something.

In fact, rendering 病病 as “sick of being sick” (or a variant thereof) is a sure sign of poor translation quality. One can quickly assess a Tao Te Ching translation simply by looking at chapter 71 — and many translations fail this test.

The actual meaning of 病 here is defect or flaw. Repeating the character twice, defect-defect, means being aware of a defect as a defect. Thus, Lao Tzu is not saying that a sage is sick of being sick, and is therefore not sick. His actual meaning is that a sage sees a defect as a defect, and is therefore not defective — in other words, sages are self-aware and therefore self-corrective. This makes perfect sense, and reflects reality far better than the mistranslation.

Derek Lin
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