Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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You cannot become successful without many people failing. The misfortunes of others creates your luck. Therefore never let your sympathy for others' suffering convince you to become involved with their fate. Involvement with the unfortunate can easily pull you down to the same level. Often those envied and despised when successful become pitied with useless support when unfortunate and failing. (cf. #64)


In this nod to Machiavelli, Gracian (born 132 later)—or possibly a later editor—contradicts most of his other suggestions and paraphrases this famous sentiment from The Prince with a slightly more Christian softness:
A successful conclusion washes away the negative memories and bad feelings that arise from using unethical methods. If you win, you don't have to explain or justify yourself so winning holds the supreme importance. The goal is the journey. History only records in detail success and failure, not the means. Therefore, sometimes becoming successful requires breaking the rules.


"Time and I Against Any Two"
Accomplishments quickly and easily gained normally have shallow roots, easily reverse, and mean little. Lasting, meaningful achievements build up little by little over long periods of time. Master yourself first by never rushing or letting excitement unleash passions that lead to ill-considered decisions. Thoughtful and strategic patience actualizes opportunity while haste falls far short. By patiently navigating the maze of time we avoid unforeseen pitfalls and slowly build success. The best idea attempted at the wrong time fails while composed, even-tempered waiting recognizes the unique moment for the most advantageous action.


A common corruption of power brings a critical, condemning approach to every situation and person. Exaggerated accusations and too much focus on the negative pushes everything to extremes, condemns every action, depresses every person, and can turn a paradise into a prison. A noble nature, on the other hand, searches out successes rather than failures, shuns fault and blame, looks for excusing circumstances—mitigating motivations, and praises good intentions even when they fail.


A continual artistic approach to our innermost selves, to our physical surroundings, and to our relationships saves us from meaningless barbarism. Only accepting—without listening to the inner, creative impulse to improve—confines us to herd-instinct conformity. All beauty can be enhanced, all excellence improved, all personal qualities refined. Art improves the negative, amplifies the good.


A good reputation depends more on discretion and not-doing much more than on our actions, words, and successes. Everyone makes mistakes and experiences a multiplicity of failures. The wise hide their mistakes—even from themselves as much as possible—while the foolish focus in, obsess with, and often even brag about them. Not hiding foolish actions and words creates more foolishness than the original mistake. Resist the illusion of comfort in confession, cultivate a healthy forgetfulness, and hide your indiscretions even from your friends.


A good sense of humor has an important but small place in life. Too much joking undermines credibility and—while it may create a reputation for good wit—prevents people from taking us seriously. Joking and lying share many similarities and both make people not know when they can and when they can't believe us. When we have an important and serious point to make, people at first expect that we're just joking again and any influence the point might have quickly dissolves.


A great country is like the sea,
Like a watershed that all rivers flow down toward.
The feminine of the world,
It joins everything together
Overcoming aggression with humility, stillness, and peace.

In this way a great country
Wins over smaller and weaker ones
With respect and appreciation.
Not threatened, smaller countries support and sustain the larger
Winning patronage and protection
Like the feminine drawing in the male.

They both lie low to be on top,
Accomplish by surrendering.


A Path that can be explained
Isn’t a complete path.
Words that become names
Are only concepts, not real things.
The unnamed is the source of everything in heaven & on earth.
Not wanting anything to be different,
We see the inner essence.
Always wanting, we are blinded
And only see what we want.
Nameable and un-nameable;
The same source and nature but two words;
Deeper than any mystery,
Doorway to the essence of all true understanding.


A wise person benefits more from their enemies than a fool does from their friends. While flattery and friendly kindness ignores our faults and mistaken decisions, ill-will points them out and brings them to our attention. This makes flattery more dangerous than hatred and malevolence a more true mirror than affection. This more clear seeing often solves mountains of difficulties that would otherwise arise from our arrogance, delusions, and unrealistic impressions. Like when catching the handle rather than the blade of a knife thrust at us, we can use the threat to increase our caution, our insight, and our integrity.


Achieving and maintaining a good reputation has a difficult and high cost because a genuine one only arises from exceptional qualities which are as rare as mediocre traits are common. Borrowed from fame, it develops not from egotistic striving but instead from merging with innate wisdom. Though possible to fake, only a well-founded reputation based on substance endures. This kind of recognition comes with high expectations and demands but also confers influence and opportunity.


All things arise from the Tao
And the Power of Goodness nourishes them
As their own being shapes them,
As their own energy completes them.
In this way, the 10,000 things
All hold the Tao Sacred
And follow the Power of Goodness.

Unforced and natural,
This reverence and devotion
Arises spontaneously
As the Way gives life and supports,
Mothers and trains,
Shelters and protects,
Comforts and completes.

Mysterious, hidden, and profound;
This highest goodness
Holds without possessing,
Succeeds without taking credit,
Leads without controlling.


Almost everything includes a list of both positive and negative qualities. Some immediately focus on the good points, others the bad ones. Have good taste and become more like the honeybee that immediately goes toward the sweet; not like the poisonous snake that at once goes for its venom. Many fixate on the one defect out of a thousand good qualities and fill up their sad lives with complaint, criticism, and blame. Much better to experience life with the opposite approach—finding and developing the one good quality out of a thousand bad ones.


Although a large amount of success in life depends on the goodwill of friends; although to a large extent we're judged because of our friends; although wise friends help us prevent and chase away troubles while foolish ones invite and encourage them; although choosing good friends is one of the most important things we do in life; few carefully select their friends. Most people find their friends by chance, because of the circumstances that haphazardly throw us into the same room. Instead, choose friends wisely. Look below the surface and see their true selves; don't rely on words but test them in the world of experience; see through the mirage of skillful entertaining, pleasure-seeking, and the myriad forms of seduction. The insight and good wishes of a true friend easily becomes one of the most valuable resources in life.


Although being in the right place at the right time gives the greatest advantage, it is also extremely rare. Sometimes the right time might be a different century, the right place a different country. While many basic qualities, skills, and kinds of intelligence have a consistent stability; attitudes, conditions, and cultural complexities constantly shift and impulsively change. Ageless wisdom, however, breaks all constraints of time and place.


Although history rewards its highest honors to the art of thinking and the shattering of illusions, modern society has lost this kind of appreciation; and instead, philosophy became suspect and frequently even considered nonsense. Seeing through illusions and deceit, however, remains a priority of the wise and a foundation for authentic integrity—the best support for a thoughtful mind and a virtuous path in life.


Although imitation traps us in boxes of conformity, a wealth of creative inspiration can arise from watching an heroic model. Find and study examples of greatness—not to mindlessly follow but to spark more creative energy. While awareness of others' success inflames jealousy, competition, and envy in the foolish; it kindles dedication, confidence, and noble deeds in the wise.


Although inevitable, change need not undermine reliability. When not capricious but instead based on sound reasoning, change doesn't confuse people making them doubt our reliability. When personal change arises because of consistently responding to externally changing situations and events, reputations for dependability remain solid. However, when conduct frequently vacillates out of boredom for no reason other than novelty, we destroy our credibility, our reputation, and our ability to accomplish and succeed. Heart and vision can remain consistent and dependable while external action and strategy quickly change with the changing circumstances.


Although one of our most common activities, we often take conversation for granted and don't give it enough attention. As philosophers from Socrates to Erasmus to Dryden to Ben Johnson quoted, "Speak that I may know you." Our friends, rivals, and associates all judge us mainly by our conversation and it either rises us up or throws us down. In this regard, discretion becomes more important than eloquence. At best and most appropriate, we adapt our words to the minds, feelings, and temperaments of others. With close friends, many prefer spontaneous, casual and ill-considered words. In more substantial circles however, conversation reveals substance and significantly determines outcomes.


Always hold fast to the virtues of integrity and goodness. Regard deception as treason and embrace righteousness even when it conflicts with family, friendship, cultural norms, political influences, or any kind of self-interest. Many praise these values but few follow them, especially when danger or desertion threatens. The worldly wise make distinctions and compromise for pragmatic political demands. People of the highest integrity, however, hold fast to their path of goodness and follow the truth rather than the opinions and attitudes of their culture, country, or religion. This kind of unwavering loyalty to integrity transcends physical and spiritual materialism and readily leaves a fickle group when the group leaves the path of virtue.