Tao Te Ching – Chapter 79


In the aftermath of contention — a big disagreement, an argument, a fight — we may try to patch things up and let bygones be bygones. Unfortunately, there’s always some resentment remaining, no matter how hard we try to forgive and forget. Surely, this cannot be a good thing.

The sages rise above contention. When they help others, they do so unconditionally, without any expectations of payback. They are the lender, but not the collector. They understand acting out of virtues is its own reward. They do not wish to be like the ones constantly demanding payment, thus demonstrating a complete lack of virtues.

The sages never worry getting what they deserve because they know the Tao works. Its karmic function will ensure that anyone who gives with kindness, in accordance to the Tao, will receive abundantly.

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Translation Notes

左契, the left part of the lending agreement, presents a problem to translators who have never heard of the ancient Chinese method to handle debts. At best, they’ll skip over 左 (left) and translate the left side as “tally” — as in the total amount owed.

This is, of course, a compromise in accuracy. It is also a missed opportunity to convey the richness of the culture, and the innovative solution that kept both the lender and the borrower honest — long before the invention of paper.

The term “karma” originated in Hinduism and came to China through Buddhism, centuries after the time of Lao Tzu. Therefore, although the ancients understood the cyclical nature of cause and effect, they did not use “karma” or “karmic function” to describe it. I do use such terms myself in explaining the Tao Te Ching, since they are widely understood by modern readers.

Derek Lin
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