Tao Te Ching – Chapter 77


The Tao of nature is all about the right balance. This is reflected everywhere, even in the art of archery. When you are about to fire an arrow, you have to aim by adjusting the angle — not too high and not too low. You also have to moderate your strength in pulling back to bowstring — not too much and not too little. You will hit the target if everything is just right.

From this, we can see that the Tao in nature is constantly reducing the excessive and adding to the insufficient — for example, ice melts and boiling water cools off. People often act in contradiction to this principle. For instance, they take from the poor to give to the rich, so those who have little end up with even less, while those who have too much get even more.

Who can be different, and give what they no longer need to those who need it? Only the few who know the Tao. They are the sages who act in accordance with nature. They give naturally, without the need to satisfy their ego. They are truly wise — and therefore have no need to display their wisdom.

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Translation Notes

The line 有餘者損之 means “that which is excessive, reduce it.” Similarly, 不足者補之 means “that which is not enough, supplement it.” A few translators assume this means if the bowstring is too long, cut it short, and if it is too short, lengthen it.

How can you tell that this is wrong? The key is near the beginning, where Lao Tzu compares the Tao to 張弓, which means pulling back the nocked arrow, expanding the bow, and getting ready to shoot.

It would only make sense to talk about cutting or lengthening the bowstring if Lao Tzu compares the Tao to the manufacturing or creation of the bow. That is not the case here. It is quite evident that Lao Tzu is using his words to paint a vivid image of an archer firing off an arrow.

Derek Lin
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