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Taoist Philosophy - Chapter 98

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Of The Best Rulers


Of the best rulers
The people only know that they exist;
The next best they love and praise;
The next they fear;
And the next they revile.

When the rulers do not command the people’s faith,
The people will lose faith in the rulers,
And then they resort to oaths!
But of the best,
When their task is accomplished,
Their work done,
The people all remark,
“We have done it ourselves.”

Whoever claims the right to rule over the people
Must submit to the people;
Whoever claims to guide them
Must follow them.
Thus the Holy Man dominates
Without making the people bend beneath his weight;
He guides
Without making the people suffer any harm.

(The early Taoists discussed the decline of Tao and the world chaos resulting from the development of civilization. This gave an exceptional opportunity for the later Taoists to register their protest against the teachings of the scholars and in particular, against the teachings of humanity, justice, rituals and music. The fundamental viewpoint is that when man’s original nature was yet unspoiled, he was acting in accord with Tao, obeying his instincts entirely, and therefore he was unconsciously good. The decline of Tao came with the development of knowledge and the consciousness of virtues and vices taught by the philosophers and the promotions and punishments instituted by governments. With the teaching of conscious virtues came hypocrisy, and with hypocrisy came world chaos.)

On The Best Type Of Ruler

“Suppose there is a man here,” asked a disciple of the Sage, “who is strong and determined, who has insight and understanding of things and events, and follows Tao diligently. Shall such a one be comparable to a wise ruler?”

“In comparison to the wise ruler, such a man is like a good clerk or a technical expert,” said the Sage. “The proverb says, ‘Tigers and leopards are hunted for their skins, the ape is captured for his agility, and the hound is put under leash because of his ability to worry foxes.’ How can such a person be compared to a wise ruler?”

The disciple knitted his brows and said, “Can you enlighten me on the kind of government by the wise ruler?”

“In the government by the wise ruler,” said the Sage, “its effect is over the entire nation, yet it appears not to stem from him. He changes and influences all things, and the people are not dependent on him. His influence is there, but you cannot put your finger on it, and everybody is pleased with himself. The wise ruler is one who stands on the fathomless and roams in the sphere of not-being.”

The Need For Rulers

When a thousand people gather together with no one as their leader, they may be either unruly and disorganized or they may be well disciplined and work for the common good. Therefore when there are many virtuous people, there should not be many rulers (government officials), but when there are few virtuous people, there should be rulers. This is the principle of Heaven and man and the most proper thing to do.

Edited by Marblehead

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