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I found a beautiful edition of the Tao Te Ching while browsing in the religion section at Borders bookstore, looking at books in the comparative religion section. Surprisingly, it was marked as a bargain book for $5, a beautiful glossy paged book with Chinese brush paintings on every page, and so I bought it.

The translation is by John H McDonald, and, as explained in the introduction, one of more than forty English print translations (plus more online). I noticed lots of language that parallels biblical concepts and passages, particularly about humility and about the ideal of goodness flowing naturally rather than being prescribed by laws.

Some quotes that I like:

"Only he who is the lowest servant in the kingdom, is worthy of becoming its ruler."
"People would have no need for laws, because the law would be written on their hearts."
"I have heard that those who celebrate life walk safely among the wild animals."

And an interesting before-its-time tribute to simple living (from a text about avoiding wars and conflicts with other countries):

"Let people enjoy the simple technologies,
let them enjoy their food,
let them make their own clothes,
let them be content with their own homes,
and delight in the customs that they cherish."

And, as part of a compelling philosophy of gentle leadership, something the Tao Te Ching is well know for:

"Those who are good she treats as good.
Those who aren't good she also treats as good.
This is how she attains true goodness.
She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren't trustworthy.
This is how she gains true trust."


Rivers and seas are rulers
of the streams of hundreds of valleys
because of the power of their low position.

If you want to be the ruler of people,
You must speak to them like you are their servant.
If you want to lead other people,
You must put their interests ahead of your own.

I understand the word Tao to mean "The Way" and to refer to the spirit or essence of creation and goodness. It can't be defined exactly: "The Tao is nameless and unchanging. Although it appears insignificant, nothing in the world can contain it....All things end in the Tao, just as the small streams and the largest rivers flow through valleys to the sea."

By living in unity with this spirit, goodness will flow more freely. The Tao Te Ching expresses the ideal that it is better to internalize a spirit of kindness and goodness then to have to live by external laws and morality:

"The highest good is not to seek to do good,
But to allow yourself to become it.
The ordinary person seeks to do good things,
and finds that they can not do them continually.

...The kind person acts from the heart,
And accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The moral person will act out of duty,
and when no one responds
will roll up his sleeves and use force.

.... The law is the husk of faith ....
.... The master abides in the fruit and not the husk.
She dwells in Tao, and not with the things that hide it.
This is how she increases in wisdom.

January 2011