Tao Te Ching Essay Sample
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- Category: taoism
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Tao Te Ching Essay Sample
In Chapter 1, it is said that “the Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.” (J. Legge translation, Chapter 1)
To this effect, Lao Tzu is saying that the true Tao (Way) is something that is not defined by name alone. It is intangible, and cannot be described in terms that can be easily grasped in just a single discussion. It needs to be understood deeply in order to grasp its true meaning. It means that in order to grasp the true Tao, a person needs to take its meaning into heart and live it.
Everyday, I find that people don’t understand nor appreciate the true meaning of their lives. I hear of people complaining of their status in life, their jobs and oftentimes these complaints are coupled with depression and disillusionment. Mostly these lead people to squander away their lives. In that scope, I find the first chapter very pertinent. If people could learn to live out their lives by heart and to the fullest, they could find the true meaning of their lives along the way.
Most people are trapped in their materialistic longings, including carnal longing, and are thus suffering and are unable to define what their life really means beyond worldly boundaries. Lao Tzu says that “if desire always within us be, its outer fringe is all that we shall see.” (J. Legge, Chapter 1) This means that man should learn to look beyond and divest himself of his own earthly desires in order for him to be able to grasp what his life actually means in the grand picture. If he is ruled by his worldly inclinations, he won’t be able to really live and appreciate his life to the fullest.
In chapter 2, I read a passage that I interpreted as saying that two opposite aspects of one object are actually instrumental in helping us understand fully what balance means. For example, “all in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is.” (J. Legge translation, Chapter 2)
What Lao Tzu here is saying that if we know what beautiful is, then we also undoubtedly have an idea what ugliness is. We learn to compare. If we cannot see what a beautiful thing looks like, we don’t learn to compare it with something else and see the opposite of beauty. Along the way, we learn to appreciate the balance of ugliness and beauty in the grand scheme of things.
Basically, it is similar to the concept of yin and yang in Taoist philosophy. Yin stands for everything feminine, bright, and external. Yang stands for everything masculine, dark and internal. They are both opposites, but in the taijitu symbol both yin and yang are seen to complement rather than contradict each other.
For me, this chapter serves to teach people to see and learn to settle differences and instead find ways to set them aside for a harmonious relationship with each other. That’s why I like it. If people took this quote to mind and heart, and learn its essence, maybe for once we all can achieve world peace since people can learn to look beyond our differences which currently prejudice our relationships with other people that are not of the same race, age, or gender as us.
I also particularly like the seventh chapter of the Tao Te Ching because in here, Lao Tzu conveys a message of selflessness and living not for oneself but for others. Here, he says, “The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 7)
Even though Lao Tzu used the analogy of heaven and earth in that passage, I think he is actually preaching that man should put the well-being of his fellows first before his own. I find the idea appealing, because apparently it is man’s true purpose to live for the benefit of his fellowmen, and not his own. Selfishness and apathy supposedly should have no place in this world at all. Human beings should work to complement each other, not supplant one another in an endless struggle for vain supremacy.
It is worth noting that one finds little or no happiness at all when one strives to satisfy his own self without considering the welfare of others. That is because he has no peace of mind. He continues to be haunted by his conscience, knowing that he has stepped on others for his own gain. This is what I interpreted as Lao Tzu’s message when he said that “heaven and earth continue and endure by not living for themselves.”
Humility is the main point of the 9th chapter of the Tao Te Ching. It also discusses about how an excessive greed and longing for material wealth could be destructive to a person in the long run.
I find these lines most interesting in this chapter: “When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe. When wealth and honors lead to arrogance, this brings its evil on itself. When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 9)
The chapter captures my fancy because, the way I see it, Lao Tzu is teaching us that although riches (gold and jade) can buy a lot of material comforts and perks in this world, they also arouse dangerous thoughts and feelings of envy from other people wishing to have the same things. Had it not been for the lessons in this chapter, I wouldn’t have learned that it’s a bad idea to aspire for too much material riches than I can handle.
You see, too much riches can expose a person to danger. Specifically, from envious people who might want to steal his riches and take it for themselves. Having too much riches can also cause a person to be arrogant. Arrogance can cause people to despite and hate a person, which could also lead to murder in some cases.
However, if one maintains a sense of humility, he will instead earn the respect of those around him. Sometimes when one is respected he won’t have a reason to fear for his own life in his own neighborhood.
Interestingly, this chapter also talks about how one should learn his limits. Lao Tzu here says that “[i]t is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.”
In my own study of the passage, I have come to interpret the quote as Lao Tzu’s way of telling us not to bite more than we can chew. This chapter also taught me to recognize what my limits are. Relating to the passage, it is utter foolishness to attempt to carry a water vessel if it has been filled to the neck because of its heaviness. One should know up to what level should he fill the water vessel so he can lift it conveniently and without excess strain imposed on the muscles.
In the 13th chapter, Lao Tzu states that a sage “seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly, and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes. He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the former.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 13)
This chapter speaks about the importance of learning to know if what one wants is actually one needs, or if what one wants is actually just aimed to satisfy our vanity. I find this quote from this chapter useful to my daily life, because it reminds me not to keep on buying things that are not important in the long run or can be done away with. It teaches me to place on first priority the things that are critical to my existence, instead of the things that satisfy only the vain aesthetics of myself and the standards of other people.
Nowadays, when even basic commodities are expensive, one needs to learn to prioritize. For example, you have to prioritize the food you eat before you consider buying a new cellular phone perhaps or a new car because you want get in with the current trend. Those kind of things are material, fleeting, and will not benefit you in the long term.
In Chapter 22, Lao Tzu says that “[t]he partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 22)
In this chapter, Lao Tzu’s message is that a person who has simple needs will fulfill them, while a person who has high standards in life and desires many things will find no satisfaction.
As a person, I strive in simplicity. I despise extravagant displays. This is why this chapter holds a certain appeal for me. I always believe that when my needs are simple and few, it would be easier to satisfy them.
I know of a few people whose needs are so great that they find it hard to satisfy them, and are in the end feeling frustrated at their inability to get what they want. They fail to appreciate what they have because they are so busy finding ways to fulfill their numerous cravings. And so, they are unhappy.
In chapter 24, Lao Tzu once again expounds on the virtue of humility. He says that “he who displays himself does not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 24)
If you look around, you’ll find that there are people who are always talking about how good they are at one thing. However, the people around them don’t like them. You will mostly hear people backbiting him and discrediting what he is saying. This is because he failed to arouse respect from them by persistently flashing his skills without acting to prove what he is saying. The people dislike him for being an attention grabber.
I find it worth noting that when one avoids talking about what he can do and instead shows his skill through action, he gains the respect and admiration of others. It is because he earns his reputation by showing his skills instead of just bragging about it. Once again, Lao Tzu has taught me that the true way to gaining respect is by being humble, and not through arrogance.
According to Lao Tzu, he “[w]ho knows his manhood’s strength, yet still his female feebleness maintains; as to one channel flow the many drains, all come to him, yea, all beneath the sky. Thus he the constant excellence retains; the simple child again, free from all stains.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 28)
This chapter has a personal appeal to me because it shows how one could be free from worries and “stains” if he remains true to himself. In this age, a man who shows his “female feebleness” would definitely be subject to much ridicule, leading most to maintain a fake sense of bravado. Life becomes hard for them to live because they always worry about their effeminate sides coming out. It is somehow comforting to read something that shows how one can benefit from showing their true selves instead of pretending to be what they are not.
In Chapter 33, Lao Tzu teaches us that “[h]e who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will. He who does not fail in the requirements of his position, continues long; he who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.” (J. Legge trans., Chapter 33)
In this chapter, Lao Tzu places an emphasis on the saying that “the greatest enemy is ourselves.” Here, he says that someone who defeats himself is mighty. This is true. I find it important that people realize that all they need to achieve a peaceful and happy life is to defeat their own selves. This means that they should get rid of their excessive desires, and should choose instead to be satisfied by having only what they need in order to survive.
When one realizes that it is futile to go after those things that what we do not actually need, one can learn to be satisfied with the things that he has. This is the part of Lao Tzu’s message that appeals to me the most, because it teaches one that the true sense of being rich is the sense of having everything that are sufficient for us to attain our daily needs. We do not need to go hoarding things that satisfy the eyes of others and ourselves; we only need to keep the things that are essential to our daily survival.
In Chapter 44, Lao Tzu asks that “Or fame or life, which do you hold dearer? Or life or wealth, to which would you adhere? Keep life and lose those other things; Keep them and lose your life:–which brings sorrow and pain closer?”
I like this message that Lao Tzu imparts to us in this chapter, which speaks about valuing one’s life over material perks. Lao Tzu tells us that at one point you will have to choose between your life and those riches that you have been holding on to. If you choose to let go of your riches, you will keep your life and nothing else. However, if you choose to hold on to the material wealth that you own, you will eventually lose your life.
In my life, I have heard of various people that have been killed or injured resisting thieves or muggers that have tried to take their belongings. I believe it is such a sad waste of life, fighting over something that one cannot take to the grave in the end. I find that sad that these people give so much value to something that can not even take with them to the grave or the next life.
In its entirety, the 78th chapter is talking about how a weak force can overcome brute force. Lao Tzu uses the water as an example. To him, the water is the softest and the weakest force in this world. However, as evidenced by various tragic floods in the past, water can bring down even the strongest wall and the sturdiest tree in its passage.
I find this passage fascinating because of its implied discussion of pacifism. I’ve always been impressed with pacifists. Pacifists in the past have brought down kingdoms, inspired revolutions, without lifting a single finger in an act of violence.
This chapter of the Tao Te Ching has reminded me of the fact that meeting force with force gets you nothing but exasperated conflict. Force can only be overcome by weakness. It’s totally confusing, especially since we’re used to the idea to resist strength with strength. In a contest of physical prowess, the weak one loses the fight. But in the grand game of life, it is observed that those who resist violence with acts of kindness succeed in bringing down the strong. History is abundant with examples of such successes by pacifists. Pacifists are like the termites: they are small, feeble and can easily be killed when steps on them and crushes them, but they can bring down a house easily.
Legge, James. “Sacred Books of the East: Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.”. Oct. 18, 2007. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/taote.htm>