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Taoist Philosophy - Chapter 96

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Embrace Thy Original Nature


Manifest plainness and embrace the genuine;
Lessen self-interest and make few your desires;
Eliminate learning and have no undue concern.
Banish wisdom, discard knowledge;
The people shall benefit a hundredfold.

Banish “humanity”, discard “justice”;
The people will return to filial piety and compassion.
Banish cunning, throw away profit;
Then we will have no robbers and thieves.

The people have need of what they can depend upon.
Reveal thy simple, unadorned, uncultured self,
Embrace thy original nature,
Check thy selfishness,
Curtail thy desires.

(The following selections contain angry protests against civilization. Exaggerated as the protest against civilization is, the second selection nevertheless contains a profound psychological truth. In exchange for the material essentials of civilized life, man has lost certain essentials which are necessary for his peace of mind. The first selection is an extract from the extraordinary essay, “Opening trunks,” whose theme is, “When the learned men arose, gangsters appeared.” The second selection is an extract from the essay “On Tolerance.”)

Opening Trunks

The precautions taken against thieves who open trunks, search bags, or ransack cabinets, consist in securing with cords and fastening with bolts and locks. This is what the world calls wit. But a big thief comes along and carries off the cabinet on his shoulders, with box and bag, and runs away with them. His only fear is that the cords and locks should not be strong enough! Therefore, does not what the world calls wit simply amount to saving up for the strong thief? And I venture to state that nothing of that which the world calls wit is otherwise than saving up for big thieves; and nothing of that which the world calls sage wisdom is other than hoarding up for robbers.

How can this be shown? Of old, many learned men have been beheaded, disemboweled, sliced to death, and thrown to the waves. All these were learned ones, but they could not preserve themselves from death by punishment.

An apprentice to a great robber asked him, saying, “Is there then honor among thieves?”

“Tell me if there is anything in which there is not Tao,” the robber replied. “There is the sage character of thieves by which booty is located, the courage to go in first, and the chivalry of coming out last. There is the wisdom of calculating success, and kindness in the equal division of the spoils. There has never yet been a great robber who was not possessed of these five qualities.”

It is seen therefore that without the teachings of the learned men, good men could not keep their position, and the great robber could not accomplish his ends. Now, since good men are scarce and bad men are the majority, the good the learned ones do to the world is little and the evil great.

When knowledge arose, gangsters appeared. Overthrow the learned ones and set the gangsters free, and then will the empire be in order. When the streams cease, the gully dries up, and when the hill is leveled the chasm is filled. When knowledge is dead gangsters will not appear and the empire will rest in peace. On the other hand, if knowledge is not diminished, neither will the gangsters drop off. Not if you double the number of men wherewith to govern the empire will you do more than double the profits of the robbers.

If pecks and bushels are used for measurement, the pecks and bushels themselves will also be stolen, along with the rice. If scales and steelyards are used for weighing, the scales and steelyards themselves will also be stolen, along with the goods. If tallies and signets are used for good faith, the tallies and signets will also be stolen. If humanity and justice are used for moral principles, humanity and justice will also be stolen.

How is this so? Steal a hook and you hang as a crook; steal a kingdom and you are made a king. The teachings of humanity and justice remain in the king’s domain. Is it not true, then, that they are thieves of humanity and justice?

So it is that those who follow the way of brigandage are promoted into princes and dukes. Those who are bent on stealing humanity and justice together with the measures, scales, tallies, and signets can be dissuaded by no rewards of official regalia and uniform, nor deterred by fear of sharp instruments of punishment. This doubling the profits of robbers, making it impossible to stop them, is the fault of knowledge.

Therefore it has been said, “Fishes must be left in the water; the sharp weapons of a state must be left where none can see them.” The learned ones are the sharp weapons of the world; they must not be shown to the world.

Banish wisdom, discard knowledge, and gangsters will stop! Fling away jade and destroy pearls, and petty thieves will cease. Burn tallies and break signets, and the people will revert to their uncouth integrity. Split measures and smash scales, and the people will not fight over quantities. Trample down all the institutions of the learned ones, and the people will begin to be fit for discussing Tao. Confuse the six pitch-pipes, confine flutes and string instruments to the flames, and each man will keep his own sense of hearing. Put an end to decorations, confuse the five colors, and each man will keep his own sense of sight. Destroy arcs and lines, fling away squares and compasses, snap off the fingers of the artisan, and each man will use his own natural skill. Discard humanity and justice, and the Character of the people will arrive at Mystic Unity.

On Not Interfering With The Natural Goodness Of The Heart Of Man

A disciple asked the Sage, saying, “If the empire is not to be governed, how are men’s hearts to be kept good?”

“Be careful,” replied the Sage, “not to interfere with the natural goodness of the heart of man. Man’s heart may be forced down or stirred up. In each case the issue is fatal. By gentleness, the hardest heart may be softened. But try to cut and polish it, and it will glow like fire or freeze like ice. In the twinkling of an eye it will pass beyond the limits of the Four Seas. In repose, it is profoundly still; in motion, it flies up to the sky. Like an unruly horse, it cannot be held in check. Such is the human heart.”

“At the beginning of the decline of Tao, the emperor first interfered with the natural goodness of the heart of man by means of humanity and justice. In consequence, rulers wore the hair off their legs and the flesh off their arms in endeavoring to feed their people’s bodies. They tortured the people’s internal economy in order to conform to humanity and justice. They exhausted the people’s energies to live in accordance with the laws and statutes. Even then they did not succeed. Then came confusion between joy and anger, fraud between the simple and the cunning, recrimination between the virtuous and the evil-minded, slander between the honest and the liars, and the world order collapsed.”

“When man’s original Character lost its unity, men’s lives were frustrated. When there was a general rush for knowledge, the people’s desires ever went beyond their possessions. The next thing was then to invent axes and saws, to kill by laws and statutes, to disfigure by chisels and awls. The empire seethed with discontent, the blame for which rests upon those who interfered with the natural goodness of the heart of man.”

“In consequence, virtuous men sought refuge in mountain caves, while rulers of great states sat trembling in their ancestral halls. Then, when dead men lay about pillowed on each other’s corpses, when chained prisoners jostled each other in crowds and condemned criminals were seen everywhere, then the learned men bustled about and rolled up their sleeves in the midst of handcuffs and fetters! Alas, they know not shame, not what it is to blush!”

“Until I can say that the wisdom of the learned ones is not a fastener of chains, and that humanity and justice are not handcuffs and shackles, how should I know that they were not the singing arrows (signal for attack) of the gangsters? Therefore it is said, ‘Abandon wisdom and discard knowledge, and the empire will be at peace.’”

The Robber

Throughout the land, from village to village, you could hear cocks crowing and dogs barking. Fishermen cast their nets, ploughmen ploughed the wide fields; everything was neatly marked out by boundary lines. For five hundred square miles there were temples for ancestors, altars for field spirits and corn spirits. Every canton, county, and district was run according to the laws and statutes until one morning the attorney general did away with the king and took over the whole state.

Was he content to steal the land? No! He also took over the laws and statutes at the same time, and all the lawyers with them, not to mention the police. They all formed part of the same package.

Of course, the people called the attorney general a robber, but they left him alone, to live as happy as the patriarchs. No small state would say a word against him, no large state would make a move in his direction, so for twelve generations the state belonged to his family. No one interfered with his inalienable rights.

On Robbery

The invention of weights and measures makes robbery easier. Signing contracts, setting seals, makes robbery more sure. Teaching love and duty provides a fitting language with which to prove that robbery is really for the general good. A poor man must swing for stealing a belt buckle but if a rich man steals a whole state he is acclaimed as statesman of the year.

Hence if you want to hear the very best speeches on love, duty, justice, etc., listen to statesmen. But when the creek dries up nothing grows in the valley. When the mound is leveled the hollow next to it is filled. And when the statesmen and lawyers and preachers of duty disappear there are no more robberies either and the world is at peace.

Moral: The more you pile up ethical principles and duties and obligations to bring everyone in line, the more you gather loot for a thief. By ethical argument and moral principle the greater crimes are eventually shown to have been necessary, and, in fact, a benefit to mankind.

Advising The Prince

The Sage had come to see the Prince. The Prince was glad. “I have desired,” he said, “to see you for a long time. Tell me if I am doing right. I want to love my people, and by the exercise of justice, to put an end to war. Is this enough?”

“By no means,” said the Sage. “Your love for your people puts them in mortal danger. Your exercise of justice is the root of war after war! Your grand intentions will end in disaster!

“If you set out to accomplish something great, you only deceive yourself. Your love and justice are fraudulent. They are mere pretexts for self-assertion; for aggression. One action will bring on another and in the chain of events your hidden intentions will be made plain.

“You claim to practice justice. Should you seem to succeed, success itself will bring more conflict. Why all these guards standing at attention at the palace gate, around the temple altar, everywhere? Are you at war with yourself!? You do not believe in justice, only in power and success. If you overcome an enemy and annex his country you will be even less at peace with yourself than you are now. Nor will your passions let you sit still. You will fight again and again for the sake of a more perfect exercise of ‘justice’!

“Abandon your plan to be a loving and equitable ruler. Try to respond to the demands of inner truth. Stop vexing yourself and your people with these obsessions! Your people will breathe easily at last. They will live and war will end by itself!”

Edited by Marblehead

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Thanks for the post! It is interesting... Have never read something like it.


In the past, I had to learn how to ignore my own believes of nice and good. This allowed me to learn alot, opening my eyes. The lines between good and bad dissapeared and that was scary. I lost my essence, and I had nothing to replace that essence. I felt confused, having no ground on which to stand upon. My reality of the world got pulled from under my feet and I was the one who did it.


Now that I look back, I'm grateful for the experience. I can look beyond the world of forms and boundaries to find an essence suitable for me. One that will stick with me, wherever I go, no matter what I undertake. An inner believe that cannot be taken away from me, one that remains eternal. This rare heroes journey clues me into exile to seek for such a treasure that is inperceivable to the regular eye, the inner truth of mind and heart.


My concerns for humanity are ever-present, surely. I'd like to have humans get along with eachother, have them not nuke eachother when that "end the world" red button technology is there. My transcendental essence now knows that the world will not end, that the entire universe will not notice the diffrence between such a "horrible" act and that of mine: typing this at this moment. With this kind of new core essence, I've found that I can hang out with criminals, understand them fully, yet still show them how my ways are no diffrent from theirs. That being bad is just as wrong as being good, it will open their eyes to their own core essence. Their own lack of inner truth will be obvious and they shall seek it. That is the returning of my own journey. The journeys itself will never end.


Sometimes it is hard to be inspirational enough to change someones mind on these matters. "everything is perfect, even [enter dualities here]. "Yeah, I know, but bla bla." This is a sign that you have reached the mind and that it is blocking the path to their hearts. It is a natural defense that will even target you as a threat to the existance of that ego, if you fail to avoid it. Simply try to distract the mind and then reach for the heart, as if you are hunting on a quick and anxious animal. Try to ease the pain of the truth in some way. Quickly but smoothly enter this new truth inside their hearts. Do not, at all costs, even let your target have a glimps of this truth. The knowledge is your blade, they should not understand it, only feel... This will allow the ego to die in peace, without suffering. I've not perfected this art myself, but trough practice we will get closer to perfection.


Again, thanks for the post. Don't see much comments, strangely. Came along this topic while searching for another one actually. :lol:

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Hi Everything,




I had many thoughts while reading your post but I will keep them to myself so to not distract from the beauty of what you said.


Hehehe. Yeah, sometimes I get lots of comments to these posts and sometimes not. That's life.

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