Tao-te ching Comments

Avoiding Excess

He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches
his legs does not walk (easily). (So), 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. Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumour on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.
(Ch. 24, Legge)

The meaning of this chapter is very simple: avoiding any excess. One can not obtain what he/she is longing for. Or, even worst, he/she may obtain the opposite of what he/she wants.

Too much effort to do or be something is contrary to the (rule of) Tao, so the sages don't adopt such condition.

Please note that "longing for" is the rule number one of the Westerners when they want to obtain or be something. I always hear or read variations of the urge: "If you want, you can". The emphasis on "forcing" is the specific of the Westerner mind.

In the Christian tradition, the intense desire to get something gets another expression: Jesus urges us to ask from God what we want, and believe we already received.

This is totally absent in Taoism. The Taoist disciple does not pray for something, but simply makes sure that his wishes don't exceed the measure (the rule of Tao).

Still we find in the orthodox Christian tradition a saint who urges us to step the middle path - that is, avoiding excess. His name is Seraphim of Sarov. But I am not sure how much Christians employ his method.


Another approach of this chapter suggest the idea of not doing something by ourselves. For example the following statement: he who displays himself does not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished... But I think that these statements can be explained the same way we already did above. What we do forcibly will not succeed. The core idea here should be: "Follow the Tao!"

Commentary by Jhian.



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