Tao Te Ching – Chapter 80

Paraphrase

The ideal place is not too big, so you can really get to know it. There aren’t too many people, so you can really get to know them.

In this place, people are quite capable of defending themselves, so a lasting peace prevails. They live in dignity, and they feel no need to move to any other place.

The people have the means of transportation, but they don’t need to use them to escape the horrors of war. They have armors and weapons, but they don’t need to put them on display. The strength of their defenses is already well known.

They use simple solutions in everything they do. Indeed, they favor simplicity in all aspects of life, including their meals, their clothing, their homes and their customs.

They do not live far away from one another, so they can provide mutual assistance and support. They live out their lives without ever getting into petty squabbles with each other. This is the way everyone lives here… in the land of the Tao.

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Translation Notes

器, The last character of the second line, means implements or tools in modern Mandarin. In this ancient context, it means weapons — implements of war, tools for destruction.

It is possible that politically-minded authors, personally opposed to weapons and violence, will intentionally translate the line as “let them have many tools.” They may not understand that Lao Tzu isn’t advocating aggression when he says people should be armed. He is not saying people should all become highly trained warriors.

What Lao Tzu is pointing out is that people do need enough weapons to mount a credible defense against armed incursions. The idea is to make it expensive, in terms of military expenditure, to invade and occupy a particular place. That alone can be sufficient to deter would-be conquerors and marauding warlords.

The last line, 不相往來, means cutting off all contact in modern Mandarin. In this ancient context, it means an absence of the usual back and forth that occurs in petty squabbles. Thus, Lao Tzu is not saying the neighbors never visit one another or cease all social interactions. He is driving home the point that the neighbors live in peace, and never engage in petty conflicts with one another. Harmony is ubiquitous in this ideal land of the Tao.

Derek Lin

Derek Lin is an award-winning, bestselling author in the Tao genre. He was born in Taiwan and grew up with native fluency in both Mandarin and English. His background lets him convey Eastern teachings to Western readers in a way that is clear, simple and authentic.

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