Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 60
Less is More

Manage a big project
With the same care and attention
As cooking a small fish.

Always follow the Tao
And evil loses strength,
Outside nothing troubles,
Inside, nothing frightens,
Obstacles lose power
And transform into opportunity.

Commentary

“A small rock holds back a great wave.”

Homer
850 BCE - ?
Primogenitor of Western culture

Themes: Less is More

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“Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.”

Pythagorus
(of Samos)
570 – 495 BCE
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

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“Good government is that which resorts least to laws and punishments.”

Confucius 孔丘
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
551 – 479 BCE
History's most influential "failure"

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“In seeing victory, not going beyond what everyone knows is not skilled… One skilled at battle takes a stand in the ground of no defeat… Therefore, the victorious military is first victorious and after that does battle.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 via Denma Translation Group
(Sun Zi)
544 – 496 BCE
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

Themes: Inscrutable

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“One skilled at battle takes a stand in the ground of no defeat… the victorious military is first victorious and after than does battle… And so one who is skilled cultivates Tao and preserves method.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 via Denma Translation Group
(Sun Zi)
544 – 496 BCE
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

Themes: Integrity

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“In cooking a small fish, too much turning ruins it. In governing a great state, too much reform embitters the people. Thus a ruler who possesses the Way values inaction over reform.”

Hán Fēi 韓非
280 – 233 BCE

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“If tasks are big and many and are frequently shifted, few of them can be accomplished; if we move a big vessel too often, it will incur many damages; if, when governing a big country, you alter laws and decrees too often, the people will suffer hardships.”

Hán Fēi 韓非
280 – 233 BCE

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“If you cook a small fish, don’t remove its entrails, don’t scrape off its scales, and don’t stir it. If you do, it will turn to mush. Likewise, too much government makes those below rebel.”

Heshang Gong 河上公
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)
202 – 157 BCE

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“Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish… Your life is too short and you have important things to do. Be discriminating about what images and ideas you permit into your mind. If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest… determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος
55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

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“A noble heart’s words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.”

Mumon Ekai 無門慧開
(Wumen Huikai)
1183 – 1260 CE
from The Gateless Gate, 無門関, 無門關

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“Be more careful not to miss once than to hit a hundred times… Evil news carries farther than any applause… All the exploits of a person taken together are not enough to wipe out a single small blemish.”

Balthasar Gracian via Joseph Jacobs
1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Evil Success

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“Teach your child to hold his tongue, he’ll learn fast enough to speak.”

Benjamin Franklin
1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

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“The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions - the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss or a smile, a kind look or heartfelt compliment.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1772 – 1834 CE

Themes: Less is More

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“Civilization is a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Civilization

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“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Albert Einstein
1879 – 1955 CE

Themes: Sex

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“Thomas Jefferson would have liked the first stanza… wise souls neither indulge nor repress the troubled spirits that may haunt them.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Problems

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“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.”

Neil Postman
1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

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“In this state of total consumerism - which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves - all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken.”

Wendell Berry
1934 CE –

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“A warrior doesn’t need color television or video games… doesn’t need to read comic books… the world of entertainment doesn’t arise.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

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“Commenting on the Taoteching is also like cooking a small fish. Better to have left it in the sea.”

Red Pine or Bill Porter
1943 CE –

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Comments (1)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Le Guin thinks Thomas Jefferson would have liked this cooking a small fish analogy for how to govern. The simplicity and effectiveness in this approach though seems completely lost by most modern, American political leaders.