Tao Te Ching – Chapter 75


When you overtax yourself with material concerns and overlook your spiritual needs, you begin to affect the quality of your life. This is not unlike a ruler taxing the people excessively, so they begin to starve.

Similarly, when you are unable to let go of your attachments, you find life increasingly difficult to manage. This is not unlike a ruler meddling with the people excessively, so they start resisting and become difficult to govern.

In general, when you go overboard in material pursuits, you end up with less joy in life. Eventually, you hit rock bottom, like people living in misery while the ruler enjoys luxuries. They become angry and no longer fear death, and they rise up against the ruler.

The above gives us an insight: Those who do not live excessively will end up much better off in life. They are much wiser than those who value life so much that they kill themselves chasing after it. This is a cautionary note for all of us.

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Translation Notes

One challenge in this chapter comes from the last two lines, which express a central notion in the Tao: those who live life in a balanced way, without attachments (無以生為者), are much wiser (賢) than those who value life so much that they go to extremes in chasing after it (貴生).

The original language has been obscured by the passage of time, so translators often fail to grasp the above. This may explain why some of them come up with lines that don’t quite make sense, like the following:

  • Having little to live on, one knows better than to value life too much.
  • Only those who do not cling to their life can save it.
  • He who is not bent on life is worthier than he who esteems it.

In the last example above, you can see the attempt to understand Lao Tzu: “not bent on life” is actually “not living life with attachments;” “esteems it” is actually “values life too much.” This still misses the mark, but at least it’s closer than the other two examples.

Derek Lin
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