Chapter 74 – Questioning Capital Punishment


When the people are not afraid of death,
wherefore frighten them with death?
Were the people always afraid of death, and were I able to arrest and put to death those who innovate, then who would dare?
There is a regular executioner whose charge it is to kill.
To kill on behalf of the executioner is what is described as chopping wood on behalf of the master carpenter.
In chopping wood on behalf of the master carpenter,
 there are few who escape hurting their own hands instead.  Translated by D. C. Lau (1963)
The people are not afraid of death.
Why, then, threaten them with death?
Suppose the people are always afraid of death and we can seize those who are vicious and kill them, Who would dare to do so?
There is always the master executioner (Heaven) who kills.
To undertake executions for the master executioner is like hewing wood for the master carpenter. Whoever undertakes hewing wood for the master carpenter
rarely escapes injuring his own hands.   Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)


business man shrugTo me, this is one of those chapters that leaves a reader with more questions than answers.  If we consider some of those questions, perhaps a bit of understanding will emerge.

Q. Who are these people mentioned in the first two lines who are not afraid of death?

In the previous chapter, the sage considered the daring brave who often end up dead. This could be a continuation of that discussion, but I think not.  Those who are sufficiently oblivious to death to be considered brave, swashbuckling heroes usually make up a small minority of any social group.

The people who are mentioned could be those who believe in reincarnation or in an everlasting Paradise following their time in this world.  However, those concepts have not been discussed up to this point in the Tao Te Ching.

I believe that to make sense of the first two lines, it is necessary to look ahead to Chapter 75.  I had thought it might be good to discuss that chapter with this one, but have decided to look at each separately.  For now, let us simply consider that one reading of Chapter 75 says that a government that is overly zealous in taxing and controlling the people can push them to the point where they do not care if they live or they die.

In Witter Bynner’s translation, he reverses what are normally Chapters 74 and 75, so the chapter we are here considering as Chapter 74, is Chapter 75 for Bynner; and this Chapter 74 comes after he states that “men who have to fight for their living . . . are not afraid to die for it.” Continue reading


Chapter 73 – Let’s Start With Bravery

 He who is brave in daring will be killed.
He who is brave in not daring will live.
Of these two, one is advantageous and one is harmful.
Who knows why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage considers it a difficult question.
The Way of Heaven does not compete, and yet is skillfully achieves victory.
It does not speak, and yet it skillfully responds to things.
It comes to you without your invitation.
It is not anxious about things and yet it plans well.
Heaven’s net is indeed vast.
Though its meshes are wide, it misses nothing. 

Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)

Taoist Immortals

Taoist Immortals

There are a lot of directions in which I think I should go with my “Tao Te Ching Tuesday” comment on this chapter, many of which, I’m afraid, qualify as abject digressions.  I also would like to keep a reasonable length to what I write.  Therefore, I am going to try to avoid at least some of the digressions and be succinct in dealing with some of the subjects.  Let’s start with bravery.

It is certainly not surprising that humans recognize different kinds of brave actions.  Sometimes we are awed by the brave man or woman who rushes into danger without regard for personal safety.  Other times it is the person who is calm before a hazardous situation who is seen as brave.

Here, the sage tells us that “one is advantageous and one is harmful”; but he does not say which is which.

In a different context, I have written about the influence of the Vietnam War on the actions and beliefs of an entire generation of Americans.  That generation includes tens of thousands of brave men and women who risked or gave their lives in that war.  It also includes tens of thousands more who declared themselves conscientious objectors or who emigrated to Canada to avoid the draft or who protested against the war.  Without questioning the belief or sincerity of any of those groups or individuals, we still must consider which of the brave actions were advantageous and which harmful.

Recently, my friends Rudy and Tracy Spano introduced me to wonderful little book (about 100 pages), published in 1900, called Bushido, The Soul of Japan, by Inazo Nitobe.  The following is found at Page 15 of that book:

“ . . . ‘Courage is doing what is right’  To run all kinds of hazards, to jeopardize one’s self, to rush into the jaws of death—these are too often identified with Valor, and in the profession of arms such rashness of conduct—what Shakespeare calls, ‘valor misbegot,’ is unjustly applauded; but not so in the Precepts of Knighthood.  Death for a cause unworthy of dying for, was called a ‘dog’s death.’  ‘To rush into the thick of battle and be slain in it,’ says a Prince of Mito, ‘is easy enough, and the merest churl is equal to the task; but,’ he continues, ‘it is true courage to live when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die’ . . .”

Continue reading


Chapter 72 – Why Not Rule Like a Sage?

 When the people lack a proper sense of awe,
Then some awful visitation will descend upon them. 

Do not constrict their living space;
Do not press down on their means of livelihood.
It is because you do not press down on them that they will not weary of the burden.

Hence the sage knows himself but does not display himself,
Loves himself but does not exalt himself.

Therefore he discards the one and takes the other.

Translation by D. C. Lau (1963)


When the people do not fear what they ought to fear, that which
is their great dread will come on them.

Let them not thoughtlessly indulge themselves in their ordinary
life; let them not act as if weary of what that life depends on.
It is by avoiding such indulgence that such weariness does not

Therefore the sage knows (these things) of himself, but does not
parade (his knowledge); loves, but does not (appear to set a) value
on, himself. And thus he puts the latter alternative away and makes
choice of the former.

Translation by James Legge (1891)


When the people no longer fear your power,
It is a sign that a greater power is coming.

Interfere not lightly with their dwelling,
Nor lay heavy burdens upon their livelihood.
Only when you cease to weary them,
They will cease to be wearied of you.

Therefore, the Sage knows himself,
But makes no show of himself,
Loves himself,
But does not exalt himself.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

Translation by John C. H. Wu (1961)


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI began this consideration of Chapter 72 of the Tao Te Ching by quoting the translations of not one, but three, respected scholars because these three different approaches show the difficulty inherent in trying to translate this work.  Although I do not read Chinese, the research I did to prepare for these comments has indicated that the literal, word-for-word rendering of this chapter would be something like:

The people no fear power
Standard big power until
Not be improperly familiar with his place dwell
Not be disgusted with his place give birth to
Man alone not be disgusted with
Is because of not be disgusted with
Is because of sage man
Self know not self see
Self love not self precious
Reason remove that take this

In several commentaries I reviewed, it seems that the “modernistic” approach is to adopt a position close to the translations of Lau and Legge, which start by saying that if one does not have a proper perspective with respect to things which should invoke awe or dread, such things will come into his life.  Amy Putkonen (who came up with the idea of Tao Te Ching Tuesdays”) simplifies that approach in her rendering of the chapter by stating:  “When people are not expecting it/disaster happens.”

Due to the ambiguities inherent in ancient Chinese script from the perspective of a 20th or 21st Century person writing in English, the context of the language within the whole Tao Te Ching, or at least nearby chapters, must be considered to determine how the words may be rendered to make the most sense.  In this part of the book, Lao Tzu has several times given advice to rulers as to how the people should be governed.  I believe that he is again offering such advice here.  Therefore, I would lean toward accepting John C. H. Wu’s rendition.  Wu’s also seems the simplest, so perhaps it wins out simply based on Occam’s Razor.

Following Wu’s translation, I believe Lao Tzu is telling the Prince or Emperor, first, that the people must recognize the extent of his power, otherwise there is danger of rebellion or invasion by a neighboring kingdom which might see a weakness that could be exploited.

Once the power is clearly established, Lao Tzu says, as he has before (e.g., Chapters 57 and 58) that the ruler must permit his subjects personal freedoms and refrain from overbearing regulation and taxation.

Finally, he offers the ruler the example of the sage.  The sage is a person who understands his own virtues and abilities, but makes no show of them.  He knows that all that is really important is within his own person and does not seek any more than is necessary from the external world.  Why can’t governments act similarly?

Yeah, why can’t they?



Chapter 71 – I Know Nothing

To know that you do not know is the best.
To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.
Only when one recognizes this disease as a disease can one be free from the disease.
The sage is free from the disease.
Because he recognizes this disease to be disease, he is free from it. 

Translation by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)

I would like to propose three of the possible ways in which this chapter might be understood.


This can be seen as a continuation of the ideas presented in the previous chapter.  There, Lao Tzu said that although his doctrines are easy to understand and practice, there is no one who can do that; and that since he is known and understood by only a few, he is highly valued.  He concluded by saying that the precious treasure which is the essence of the sage is obscured by what seems to be a covering of coarse cloth.

Wang Yang-Ming

Wang Yang-Ming

In this chapter he is telling us that since we may not be able to understand and practice his doctrines and because we are often unable to see the hidden values of what may seem common or unappealing, we should just accept that.  There is no reason to pretend that we know or understand the concepts.  As we discussed in looking at the last chapter, they are not even concepts which are amenable to understanding through reason or human “knowledge.”  It is a disease – a disease of the Ego – that makes the non-sages among us think (and thinking is a problem) that an understanding of the ineffable in human terms is something that should be sought.

The true sages have developed immunity to that disease.

Second: Continue reading


Chapter 70 – The Jade Is Within

 My doctrines are easy to understand and very easy to practice,
But none in the world can understand or practice them.
My doctrines have a source (Nature); my deeds have a master (Tao).
It is because people do not understand this that they do not understand me.
Few people know me, and therefore I am highly valued.
Therefore the sage wears a coarse cloth on top and carries jade within his bosom. 

Translation by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)

 I would like to begin this essay with two quotes from Confucius or his later followers.  JadeThe translation for each is taken from Hellmut Wilhelm’s Change: Eight Lectures on the I Ching, which was translated from German into English by Cary F. Baynes (1960):


 “The Master said:  Writing cannot express words completely.  Words cannot express thoughts completely. 

“Are we then unable to see the thoughts of the holy sages?
(Wilhelm, Page 36).

The other:

 “First take up the words,
Ponder their meaning,
Then the fixed rules reveal themselves.
But if you are not the right man,
The meaning will not manifest itself to you”.
(Wilhelm, Page 65)

I am tempted to stop right here and say that Confucius has just explained to us what Lao Tzu wrote in this chapter – both because he has and because while the doctrines may be easy to understand and to practice, they are not easy to explain.

In the first lines of Chapter 1, Lao Tzu warned us that the Tao that can be told of or named is not the eternal Tao.  Now here we are, several thousand Chinese characters and English words into the telling of Tao and Te, and the Old Master is reminding us of the limitations on what we have read.

In many ways, Lao Tzu’s words and their translations seem reasonably easy to understand, and even reasonably easy to apply and follow.  Therein perhaps lies the problem.  Reason is a human construct.  Nature and Tao, which are here said to be the source of Lao Tzu’s doctrines and the master of his deeds, do not reason.  They simply are.

Yet not even that last three-word sentence is simple or true.  If Tao is the master of the sage’s deeds, the servant would be doing very little, for wu wei, the course of non-action, would direct those deeds.   Most people will not understand this.

The words of the Tao Te Ching are simple, humble even, like coarse cloth.  We have been told of their limitations.  The real treasure of this life lies within the soul or spirit of mankind; and very few look beneath the poor clothing in which the treasure is presented.*

But if you are the right man or woman, the meaning will manifest itself to you.  It is your treasure, after all.


*  Sort of like Bilbo’s riddle to Gollum in The Hobbit – “What is in my pocket?”



Chapter 69 – To Make Light of the Enemy

The strategists say: “I dare not take the offensive but I take the defensive;
I dare not advance an inch but I retreat a foot.”
This means: To march without formation,
To stretch one’s arm without showing it,
To confront enemies without seeming to meet them,
To hold weapons without seeming to have them.
There is no greater disaster than to make light the enemy.
Making light of the enemy will destroy my treasures.
Therefore when armies are mobilized and issues joined,
The man who is sorry over the fact will win. 

Translation by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)


Pride goeth before destruction; and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18 (King James Bible)


This is another chapter in which Lao Tzu writes about war.  Most of what is said here is not new.  The Old Master counsels – by quoting “strategists” – that if war is necessary, there should be sufficient preparation, strength comes from yielding, and the side that enters the battle with compassion will be victorious.

Each of those points is discussed elsewhere in the Tao Te Ching, so I would like to keep my focus here very limited.  I want to look at the line that says, “Making light of the enemy will destroy my treasures.”

After the discussion of the strategists’ approach, the emphasis changes in the quoted line.  Lao Tzu does not speak of losing a kingdom or the lives of the combatants or the property of the conquered.  Instead, he says that making light of the enemy will destroy my (that is, the narrator’s, presumably Lao Tzu’s) treasures.  From the placement of that

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

wording after the discussion in Chapter 67 and then the look at warfare in Chapters 68 and 69, it seems Lao Tzu is referring back to the three treasures of Chapter 67 – compassion, frugality and humility.

In the comments following the post discussing Chapter 67, Bob G argued that the first in importance of those treasures is humility.  The other two can be seen as arising from the practice of humility.  Bob is not the only one who has felt that way.  Another is the late British author, C. S. Lewis; and I would like to present a rather lengthy quote from Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity, which is available as a free ebook.  The presentations in that book were originally a series of radio broadcasts delivered during the bombing of London in World War II.  He says: Continue reading


Chapter 68 – What Would Arjuna Do?

 One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
One who excels in fighting is never roused in anger;
One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issue;
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them. 

This is known as the virtue of non-contention;
This is known as making use of the efforts of others;
This is known as matching the sublimity of heaven

Translation by D. C. Lau (1963)

The earliest versions of the Tao Te Ching were not divided into chapters.  The “modern” division of the work into 81 chapters probably did not occur for several hundred years after it was written, probably in the 1st Century B.C.  (See Chan, Two Visions of the Way (1991) at 41-44).  The number of chapters is probably more symbolic than anything, as the number “9” is considered lucky in China, and 81 is 9×9.

Bhagavad GitaSometimes the way in which the text is divided can make a difference in how it is interpreted.  This chapter and the previous one may serve as an example.  Some translations, such Wing-Tsit Chan’s (1963) end Chapter 67 this way:  “When Heaven is to save a person, heaven will protect him through deep love.”  That seems to imply that the external world is not important when one may bask in the love of God and the eternal Tao.  Further, there is a sense that such divine love can be a shield against the perceived dangers of that external world, just as the three Hebrew children were protected as they passed through the fiery furnace in the Bible’s Book of Daniel.

However, there are different interpretations that are equally plausible.  Let us assume that the end of Chapter 67 was not really the end of a thought, and combine the last two lines of that chapter with the first four lines of this chapter.  Then we have:

Through compassion, one will triumph in attack and be impregnable in defence.
What heaven succours it protects with the gift of compassion.
One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
One who excels in fighting is never roused in anger;
One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issue;
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.

Reading the parts of the two chapters together presents a somewhat different meaning.  Rather than the individual being blessed and protected by the divine love and compassion, it is the individual’s own compassion that protects and guides him.  No matter how accomplished a warrior may be, his success depends not on his own ego, but on his compassion for others.  He does not fight because he is angry or to show his formidable skill.  Instead, he does what is necessary, understanding the human foibles and emotions of his adversaries and his companions.  Consider in this context a quotation from martial arts legend Bruce Lee:  “The world is full of people who are determined to be somebody or to give trouble. They want to get ahead, to stand out. Such ambition has no use for a gung fu man, who rejects all forms of self-assertiveness and competition”

As we saw back in Chapters 30 and 31, and elsewhere, Lao Tzu appeared to feel that war is sometimes inevitable.  When the war must be fought, he says it should be done with compassion and respect – an extension of the life the sage would counsel in peaceful times.

There are, of course, questions about whether there could ever be a “just war”; and, if that was once possible, whether it remains so in this age of potential mass-annihilation.  I will defer those issues, though, to launch into an all-too-frequentTao Te Ching Tuesday” digression.

Whenever I read this chapter, I think of the Bhagavad GitaContinue reading


Chapter 67 – Three Treasures

The whole world says that my way is vast and resembles nothing.
It is because it is vast that it resembles nothing.
If it resembled anything, it would, long before now, have become small.

I have three treasures
Which I hold and cherish.
The first is known as compassion,
The second is known as frugality,
The third is known as not daring to take the lead in the empire;
Being compassionate one could afford to be courageous,
Being frugal one could afford to extend one’s territory,
Not daring to take the lead in the empire one could afford to be lord over the vessels.

Now, to forsake compassion for courage, to forsake frugality for expansion, to forsake the rear for the lead, is sure to end in death. 

Through compassion, one will triumph in attack and be impregnable in defence.
What heaven succours it protects with the gift of compassion. 

Translation by D. C. Lau (1963)

This is another of the most famous chapters of the Tao Te Ching.  It even has its own entry in Wikipedia.  When the master himself tells us, “I have three treasures which I hold and cherish,” that should certainly get the attention of his students – even those studying millennia down the road (down the tao – small “t”).  We think this is might be where we should take notes.

Many students have taken very good notes, and it is easy to find excellent commentaries Glowing Treasureon these “treasures.”  I think that Wayne Dyer’s Change your Thoughts – Change Your Life does an excellent job of discussing these treasures, so that is one work to which I would refer a reader.  In this essay, though, I would like to make a few observations that I have not found stated expressly in other commentaries I have read.

As soon as I wrote that last sentence, I knew it was not true.  It is probably more honest to say that from the bits and pieces of other people’s thoughts I have picked up along the way (tao – small “t”) I don’t know exactly where I started thinking along these lines.

This chapter is included in the portion of Lao Tzu’s work that could be called the Te Ching – the “Classic on Virtue”; and not in the first part of his work which could be the Tao Ching – the “Classic of the Way.”  Therefore, this chapter seems to be telling us that the Great or True Virtue (Te) is comprised of three essential elements, compassion, frugality and humility.  His teaching is specifically directed to the ruler and to (as well as from) the sage; but it certainly applies to us ordinary folks as well.

Considering these traits as the essence of Virtue has led me to consider the “virtues” that have been studied in Western philosophy.  Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle regarded temperance, wisdom, justice and courage as the most important character traits.  As Christianity began to be the prevalent religion, these four were referred to as the “cardinal virtues” and three “theological virtues” (faith, hope and charity) were added to counterbalance the “seven deadly sins.” Continue reading


Chapter 66 – Only the Lowly

 The great rivers and seas are kings of all mountains streams
 Because they skillfully stay below them.
That is why they can be their kings.
Therefore, in order to be the superior of the people,
One must, in the use of words, place himself below them.
And in order to be ahead of the people,
One must, in one’s own person, follow them.
Therefore the sage rejoices in praising him without getting tired of it.
It is precisely because he does not compete that the world cannot compete with him. 

Translation by Wing Tsit Chan (1963)

I don’t think this chapter adds very much to what Lao Tzu has said previously, so I will confine my Tao Te Ching Tuesday contribution to a few odd thoughts.


I was running in a local road race a few years ago, and as I came up on a runner ahead of me I notice that on the back of his shirt it said, “I must hurry to catch up with them – I am their leader.”  That seems to be the kind of leader Lao Tzu is extolling here.  It is similar to tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhe statement in Chapter 49 that the sage – or, here, the leader – has no fixed personal ideas, but regards the ideas of the people as his own.

Even a great leader cannot take his followers to a place they are not prepared to go.  You might consider this in the context of the conversation between Peter and Jesus at the Last Supper, as described in the Gospel of John:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered,“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. (John 13:36-38, English Standard Version of Bible)

Of course within hours Peter did deny Jesus three times.  He was not yet ready to follow the path to crucifixion, so the leader went on without even his most ardent follower.  Mountain streams, on the other hand, are quite ready to flow down into the great rivers and seas and they freely move toward those larger bodies of water.


I referred to a different translation in the discussion of Chapter 22, but Wing Tsit Chan’s translation of that chapter includes this sentence:  “It is precisely because he does not compete that the world cannot compete with him.”  Those are the exact words that are found at the end of Chan’s translation of this chapter.  The concepts raised in Chapter 22 are relevant here.


In this series of essays looking at the Tao Te Ching, we have been pretending that Lao Tzu was a real person who wrote the book sequentially with the 81 chapters in which it is almost always presented today.  Scholars tell us, though, that the earliest known manuscripts do not divide the text into chapters.  They also say that later manuscripts contain passages that are not in earlier ones, so there must have been changes over the years.  Lao Tzu may or may not have been a real person, but that was certainly not his real name.  “Lao Tzu” means something like “Old Master” or “Old Boy.”

Be that as it may, let us continue to pretend that the text was written by that Old Boy in the order in which it is presented in these pages.  I find it interesting that just a few lines earlier, in Chapter 65, Lao Tzu tells us that the sage and the ruler should keep the people ignorant.  Here he says that the effective ruler must, in the use of words, place himself below the people he governs.

Now in the last chapter he said that to use ignorance to rule the state is kindness, and we discussed what that might mean.  Here, though, he says that in communicating with the people, the ruler must place himself below those ignorant folks.  Does that mean that he must present himself as even worse than ignorant?

If that is the case, it would seem that many of our modern politicians are following his advice with abandon.  I don’t necessarily want to say that any one politician is worse than another, but Texas Governor Rick Perry comes to mind.  As you may recall, he dropped out of the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination largely because of the repeated gaffes  in his speeches and comments, at least as they were reported to the public.  (If you don’t recall, here is a link to a top-10 list of some of the things he said:

I must admit that I do not know much about Gov. Perry – some people I know in Texas refer to him as “big hat – no cattle” – and I am mentioning him as an example of a tangential thought.  So now I am pretty far off-topic.  I should probably quit before I wander off even more.


Fourmile FallsHumility is a good virtue.


Chapter 65 – Ignorance

 Those who practiced the Way in antiquity,
 Did not use it to enlighten the people.
 Rather, they used it to make them dumb.
Now the reason why people are difficult to rule is because of their knowledge;
As a result, to use knowledge to rule the state
Is thievery of the state;
To use ignorance to rule the state
Is kindness to the state.
One who constantly understands these two,
Also [understands] the principle.
To constantly understand the principle—
This is called Profound Virtue.
Profound Virtue is deep, is far-reaching,
And together with things it returns.
Thus we arrive at the Great Accord. 

Translation by Robert G. Henricks (1989)


 The Moral Law [the Way, the Tao] causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War 1(5-6)


Let us begin by looking at the above quotation from The Art of War.  I did not attribute it to any particular translation of that work because, at least in the brackets, I have created a bit of translation mashup.

Statue of Sun Tzu (from

Statue of Sun Tzu (from

The most commonly used English translation of Sun Tzu’s classic is that by Lionel Giles in 1910, and that forms the basis of the quotation I have used here.

In the first part of The Art of War we are told that there are five factors of utmost importance in any warfare.  The first Giles translates as “moral law.”  The others are Heaven, Earth, the commander and method and discipline.  We are going to look at only moral law in this essay.

Although “moral law” is a very good term for what is explained later in the text, more recent translators have sometimes changed the term, which seems to have originally been “tao.”  For example in Samuel  B. Griffith’s 1963 translation, he uses the term “moral influence” but states:  “Here Tao is translated ‘moral influence’. It is usually rendered as ‘The Way’, or ‘The Right Way’. Here it refers to the morality of government; specifically to that of a sovereign. If the sovereign governs justly, benevolently, and righteously, he follows the Right Path or the Right Way, and thus exerts a superior degree of moral influence.”

In Thomas Huynh’s 2008 translation he renders this as, “The Way is what causes the people to have the same thinking as their superiors”  “The Way,” of course is a translation of “Tao.”

Sun Tzu seems to have been a near contemporary of Lao Tzu, living in China some 2,500 years ago.  Both of these ancient masters use the term Tao, but it is not used by each in precisely the same manner.  Nevertheless, for the purpose of this discussion, we will assume that there is only the one Tao.

Having said that, we should look at one other preliminary matter before examining the contents of this chapter.  Lao Tzu begins by mentioning the manner in which “the Way” was practiced “in antiquity.”  That practice is the one which the Old Master considers the proper approach.  There had been masters before Lao Tzu who were closer to the primal Tao, and the changes in the world since those ancient times were not seen as changes for the better.

So, when we are told that those ancient sages sought not to enlighten the people but to keep them ignorant, that mode of action is being presented as the proper one to follow.  The question, then, is why it would be considered good to keep the people ignorant. Continue reading