Nineteenth Chapter: Tao-te Ching
The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te Ching)
Abandon sageliness and discard wisdom.
Then the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Abandon morality and discard justice;
Then the people will return to filial piety and deep love.
Abandon skill and discard profit;
Then there will be no thieves or robbers.
However, these three things are outward forms and are not adequate.
Therefore let people hold onto these:
As I Understand It:
It seems confusing that Lao Tzu would condemn morality, wisdom, skill, profit as well as the characteristics of an ideal human being, the sage, who he models at least thirty times in Tao-te Ching.
Lao Tzu seems to condemn the sage (preachers, teachers, lawyers) whose “sageliness” has become a mere shell. Taoist sage is an ideal human being who transcends time. Lao Tzu wants us to cultivate our own nature, to access the sacred center within rather than follow organized systems that tell us who we really are. We don’t need religious codes or law books to tell us what our morals should be. If we are following our true essence we instinctively know right from wrong. At critical crossroads our inner guide helps us make agonizing decisions, only if we let it guide us. Guided by Tao we are able to live a simple life, cast off our selfishness and temper our desires.
Lao Tzu wrote within a political/religious/social context in which the world was seen as a ceaseless interaction of complementary forces (yin and yang). The belief was that each yin creates its opposite yang. If we impose morality and wisdom there will be immorality and loss of common sense, if we force laws people are bound to break them, if people have surplus wealth there will be thieves. Such observations made Lao Tzu say that Confucian emphases on will, rationality and codes of conduct was wrong. He preferred that we pay attention to intelligent instincts, intuitions and creative letting be.
The Way of Lao Tzu, tr. Wing-Tsit Chan, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1963.
Dyer, Wayne W., Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of Tao. Hay House, Inc. 2007.